The Crying of Lot 49

Mike Parish

The Crying of Lot 49 is a novel by Thomas Pynchon. It is relatively short as compared to his other works, many of which I have tried reading, but found myself largely unable to.

The Crying of Lot 49 took me some time, and it is unique to me in that this is my second pass at it, more out of idleness and laziness in finding something new to read and also because I remember this book being dense and not entirely digestible the first time through.

As I began rereading it, I discovered many details and descriptions I missed. I usually have a stellar memory when it comes to books; that is, at least when it comes to rereading them, I remember what parts are coming next, remember things that stuck out to me. One trait of Pynchon’s writing is that each sentence is packed with material, some relevant to the story, some not, though I’m sure critics argue that it is all relevant.

I remember one thing about this book that blew me away on first read was its title. I remember never quite understanding what it meant until the very last line, and if you are anything like me (kind of slow to the punch and a little injured in the mind), I’m sure when you realize what the title actually means it will have a similar effect on you.

I like the names of the fake bands that appear in this book: Sick Dick and the Volkswagens and the Paranoids. In one scene, the Paranoids (whose leader Miles [described, basically, as looking like a Rubber Soul era Beatle] works at a hotel) plug in and play by the pool, with the drummer setting up on the diving board, to serenade the main character as she watches TV in her hotel room with another character. There’s a certain amount of surrealism not only in the scenes of this book but also within the writing, and it is clear after reading it why Pynchon is considered one of the greatest post-modern writers.

Check out this paragraph from the first chapter, which reeks of something, quite possibly post-modernism:

“They went to lunch. Roseman tried to play footsie with her under the table. She was wearing boots, and couldn’t feel much of anything. So, insulated, she decided not to make a fuss.”

There’s something very strange going on in the last sentence here. Everything seems normal until the use of the word “insulated” in the last sentence. As soon as I read that word in context, I was immediately thrown out of the story; I started thinking of Pynchon sitting at his typewriter and smiling to himself at his cleverness instead of his main character, Oedipa, sitting at the table, (since “insulated” is not being used to describe the protective material keeping Oedipa’s feet warm, but instead, the way that she felt protected from Roseman’s advances). I feel like this is a post-modern tactic; anything that takes you out of the story and makes you think specifically of the writer, upsetting the seamlessness of the fictional dream unfolding in your head.

Paranoia is one of the main themes of this book and Pynchon is a master at weaving it into everything. The book basically revolves around an independent postal service called Trystero, and whether it actually exists or not. The main character is trying to figure out whether it is real or just an elaborate hoax perpetrated by her ex-lover to drive her nuts. The ending of this book is perfect.

Here’s a little taste of what’s going on inside, a description regarding the main character Oedipa’s husband, Mucho, a used-car salesman:

“Yet at least he believed in the cars. Maybe to excess: how could he not, seeing people poorer than him come in, Negro, Mexican, cracker, a parade seven days a week, bringing the most godawful of trade-ins: motorized, metal extensions of themselves, of their families and what their whole lives must be like, out there so naked for anybody, a stranger like himself, to look at, frame cockeyed, rusty underneath, fender repainted in a shade just off enough to depress the value, if not Mucho himself, inside smelling hopelessly of children, supermarket booze, two, sometimes three generations of cigarette smokers, or only of dust – and when the cars were swept out you had to look at the actual residue of these lives[...]”

Notice how the second sentence above is one long sentence; it goes on like that for probably another 20 lines, listing all of the things left behind in the cars and their possible uses. I’d say that’s another trait that defines Pynchon and is perhaps another post-modern notion, the notion of lists.

I despise the cover of the edition I have. Google images found this somewhat glorious one pictured above. The symbol on the cover is known as the muted post horn, and it is the symbol of Trystero in the book. The symbol keeps appearing in random places Oedipa finds herself in throughout the book.

Reading The Crying of Lot 49, I feel like I get deeper and deeper into its story, like I’m walking down an endless staircase into a dark basement, much like Oedipa gets deeper and deeper in trying to figure out what’s going on in the book herself.

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