Tag Archives: Thomas Pynchon

DFW, PTA, FA and Emerson College

The story about Paul Thomas Anderson having a conversation with David Foster Wallace is making the rounds of the nerdiest parts of the internet today. The story, which was told on Marc Maron’s WTF podcast, is a neat little anecdote that doesn’t add much to what we know about either artist. DFW was a nice teacher. PTA adds a little more to his literary cred, even on top of adapting Pynchon’s Inherent Vice last year. However, we the editors of Fiction Advocate found one detail to be exceptionally important: the whole thing happened at Emerson College in Boston, and we are all graduates of Emerson College in Boston.

PTA, feel free to call us anytime.

-Michael Moats

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The Top Ten Books [I had Time to Read] This Year

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Foreground: Baby. Background: Books.

I became a parent in the Spring of 2014. Which is a wonderful thing, but it means that I spent my severely reduced reading time with books like The Happiest Baby on the Block Guide to Great Sleep (useful, but a pretty excruciating read); Be Prepared: A Practical Handbook for New Dads (useful, and an enjoyable read); and The Berenstain Bears and the Spooky Old Tree (still a classic).

I  did manage to pull off one half-assed review about a book I hadn’t finished reading, but for the most part my 2014 was spent dreaming of all the cool looking books I had no time to enjoy. Needless to say, this has left me woefully underqualified to make any kinds of judgments, even subjective ones, about the Best Books of the last 12 months.

And yet, I remain undeterred — what is the end of a year without a list of things? And while I may not have a top 10, I’m sure I can come up with something that fits our habit of  doing odd and unorthodox year-end lists.

So here is my list of Top Ten Books [I had Time to Read] This YearContinue reading

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Now Playing: Inherent Vice Trailer

The trailer for Paul Thomas Anderson’s adaptation of Thomas Pynchon’s Inherent Vice is here. Been looking forward to this one for a long time.

Inherent Vice was “the Pynchon book I was the least interested in reading, and the one I flat out enjoyed the most.” It also strikes me as the most film-adaptable of his novels, especially at the hands of Anderson, who also did There Will Be BloodMagnoliaBoogie Nights, and one of my personal favorites, Punch Drunk Love.

You can read more about his love of Pynchon and work on Inherent Vice in a recent New York Times story.

-Michael Moats

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Hard Refresh

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In Pynchon’s 2009 novel Inherent Vice, lovable lead and burnout Los Angeles private investigator Doc Sportello stumbles across an early iteration of the world wide web. A young kid named Sparky, which in the Pynchon universe may be a nickname or an actual name, helps Doc use the emerging technology to track down a lead on a missing person, and adds that “someday everybody’s gonna wake up to find they’re under surveillance they can’t escape. Skips won’t be able to skip no more, maybe by then there’ll be no place to skip to.”

The line felt like a teaser for Pynchon works to come. Expectations (mine, at least) went higher when it was made known that Pynchon’s 2013 novel Bleeding Edge would be set in 2001, his first foray into the networked age. It was reasonable to assume that the novel would center around precisely the kind of monitoring and manipulation that has paranoiacs and libertarians and even average citizens riled up these days. The approach would be perfectly consistent with his well-worn subjects of paranoia and conspiracy, not to mention journeys, as skips try to find places to skip to.

Which explains why it takes a while to realize that paranoia is not really what Bleeding Edge is about.  Continue reading

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Alice Munro wins the Nobel

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The internet has been lighting up recently with things Jonathan Franzen hates. Well here’s something he will love, and we can only hope it gets to him on whatever mode of communication he finds least annoying, like a rotary phone or a handwritten letter:

Alice Munro has won the Nobel Prize for Literature.

As of a few hours ago, Munro was second in the running according to London oddsmaker Ladbroke. She was a 4-1 favorite, behind Haruki Murakami, who had a 5-2 chance of winning — but didn’t.  Either  way, these two leading contenders demonstrate the value of basically writing the same kind of story over and over again.

Other possibilities were Joyce Carol Oates and Peter Nadas, both 8-1 odds, Thomas Pynchon at 12-1, and Bob Dylan, who was at 50-1 but is more likely to write a song in which the nominees and/or their character feature prominently than to actually win the prize.

Munro is said to have retired after the release of her last book Dear Life. But if she does pick up the pen again, we at Fiction Advocate look forward to reading more stories about a young woman who grew up poor in Canada, leaves home, gets married, explores her sensuality, commits adultery, gets divorced, and wins the Nobel Prize for Literature.

Read more about Munro here. And this is why we know Franzen will be happy.

– Michael Moats 

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Inventory: Inherent Vice by Thomas Pynchon and Cryptonomicon by Neal Stephenson

Inherent Vice by Thomas Pynchon
The dude abides.
Status: Limited release in DC area only.

“INHERENT VICE” IS the Pynchon book I was the least interested in reading, and the one I flat out enjoyed the most.

Late-60s California surfer noir (on weed) is not really my thing, or so I thought.  Even a YouTube video featuring the famously reclusive author speaking as the book’s lead character Doc Sportello, who describes himself as “a private gum shoe…or nowadays more like gum sandal,” didn’t catch my interest. I went to the book reluctantly, and it turned out to be well worth the read.

“Vice” is a shorter novel, and not one of Pynchon’s 500+ page picaresques. The obvious comparison is to “The Crying of Lot 49,” but “Vice” has more substance on its story and more to care about in his characters. Pynchon paints the transition into the 1970s as a lost era of innocent hedonism, a time when the last stragglers at a long party — pushed as far West as they can go, and waiting as long as they possibly can — come up against the hard knowledge that the party is ending. It’s silly, heavy, and at times heartfelt, with plenty of Pynchon’s standard ingredients of odd conspiracies, strangely dangerous rock bands, mysticism, technology and even a little sexual dominance (but just a little).

The man does a really good weird detective novel.

Do you want to trade paperbacks?

—————

Cryptonomicon by Neal Stephenson
> Zero Cool.
Status: Available.

I’VE HEARD NEAL STEPHENSON’S NAME MENTIONED alongside writers like Pynchon and David Foster Wallace a few times, especially in reference to his 1999 novel “Cryptonomicon.” The book is a long, intricately plotted story following an ensemble cast through multiple, interwoven narratives, and Stephenson isn’t afraid of explicit writing about sex, science, violence, history, math or technology. Not to mention that he can also be really funny. The story is less challenging and, ironically, less cryptic than anything I’ve come across from DFW or TP, but it’s a hell of a lot of fun, and Stephenson withstands the comparison.

From its name, its gray on black artwork and the cruciform designs on its cover, I assumed “Cryptonomicon” was going to be about something more fantastical and occult. It’s not; the closest thing to magic here is the card-based role-playing game happening in the background of a meeting between hackers. The hackers in question would likely just be called computer programmers today, but in the late 1990s they were guys who knew how to program UNIX machines to do things the government and corporations were concerned about, or outright afraid of. “Cryptonomicon” is set right at the point when guys like these were gaining legitimacy, and huge paydays, but are still on the fringes of most things having to do with society.  One of the “hackers,” Randy Waterhouse, is working with a number of other eccentrics to establish a data haven on a fictional island in the South Pacific, roughly the equivalent of legally immune Swiss banks, but for information. Other reasons for the project are revealed as events progress.

When we’re not in the late 90s, we’re following a handful of globe-trotting characters during World War II. The chapters alternate between Randy, the American Marine Bobby Shaftoe having adventures in the Pacific theater of the war, a Japanese engineer, a rogue Catholic priest/mercenary, and Allied Forces code breaker Lawrence Waterhouse — Randy’s grandfather and the man charged with deciphering Japanese and German codes, then figuring out how to use them without revealing to the enemy that their codes are broken.  Things gets really interesting when it becomes clear why the various narratives are connected.

“Cryptonomicon” could have stood to lose some pages, and when writing about Bobby Shaftoe, who provides an almost slapstick style of comic relief in some of his scenes, Stephenson let’s his “Catch-22” influence show a little bit too often. But there’s no place where the story drags, which is saying a lot for a 900 page book.

Do you want to trade paperbacks?

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