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Bookends: A reclusive author surfaces in e-book format October 15, 2015

Posted by klondykewriter in Bookends.
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Bookends: A reclusive author surfaces in e-book format

By Dan Davidson

March 18, 2015

– 831 words –

Vineland 

Vineland

By Thomas Pynchon

Kindle Edition

668 KB file siz
402 pages in paper

Penguin Press

$19.00

I recently ran across an article about Thomas Pynchon, who has sometimes been compared the J.D. Salinger in terms of his reclusiveness. It’s not quite like that, the article said. After all, he did lend his voice to the Simpsons and he has continued to produce novels.

As it happens, I read Pynchon’s first three books some decades ago, and might have read some more except that they never seem to make it to the mass paperback stage any more. They get reviewed, critiqued, praised and panned, but don’t turn up in our local bookstores. I was intrigued by the article, so I went hunting and found Vineland, which was his next novel, available as an e-book. Apparently this is a recent development.

I think it would have read better on paper. Not that it was a bad read, but the story line was convoluted enough (which I should have known after V and Gravity’s Rainbow) that it’s one of those books where you want to be able to flip back and forth to check on names and details. That’s harder to do with e-books.

It’s a story that covers two decades or so in the lives of a group of sixties survivors. We begin with Zoyd Wheeler in 1984 (probably a significant date). Zoyd has to do something a little crazy every year on a certain date in order to keep his relief cheques coming. It’s not just that he’s a slacker milking the system, but that’s something we don’t find out until three quarters or more of the way through the book. Not long after the opening sequence we leave Zoyd and start bouncing around through the lives of his circle of acquaintances, including his ex-wife, her parents and her best friend, his daughter, a Japanese millionaire, various members of the death worshipping Thanatoid sect (which may be a ringer for Scientology), a number of drug pushers, surfers and band members and the inhabitants of a convent.

Where it gets confusing is that we follow one character for a time, meet another one and suddenly find ourselves dropping back in time to sample the life of the newcomer. So, although most of the action takes place from 1960 to 1984, we do find ourselves spending some time in World War II territory as well.

A lot of the story is about how a corrupt and out of control government agent named Brock Vond is controlling the lives of most of the people we meet, particularly Zoyd’s ex-wife, Frenesi, with whom he is infatuated. Lots of what’s going on in this book revolves around various peoples’ reactions to Frenesi.

Vond is responsible for most of the mayhem in the book and it seems that very little of it is actually sanctioned by those who are ostensibly his superiors.

Frenes’s daughter (and Zoyd’s) is named Prairie, and her story of teenage rebellion and personal compromise is one of the more interesting parts of the book.

Vineland has a mixed reputation. Some call it his weakest novel; some go the other way. Now that it is more widely available, it may get a new assessment. Pynchon’s style, at any rate, has been highly influential. I’ve read a number of recently published books that have tis same scattershot, recursive narrative style. It would have been much more startling when the book first came out in 1990.

The Misadventures of Sweetie Pie

By Chris Van Allsburg

Houghton Mifflin Harcourt BooksSweetie Pie

32 pages

$24.99

Sweetie Pie is a hamster. When we meet him he is waiting to be purchased in a pert store, thinking that life anywhere has to be better than this. It turns out that he is mistaken. Oh, the little girl who first has him as a pet loves him well enough- until she gets a computer to play with.

The boy who gets him next might have been okay – except for the dog. Then there was the little girl, whose facial expression tells you right away will be a problem owner. She manages to lose him completely in one of those plastic roller balls.

The next boy has a mother who doesn’t like “rats” but it’s when the boy forgets Sweetie Pie outside in his cage that things get really interesting.

You see, a couple of squirrels have already noticed him in the cage and have figured out how to open the door. So when the boy forgets to take him home, he doesn’t freeze to death in the snow, but ends up adopted by the squirrel family and gets to live free.

Van Allsburg is a great illustrator, and his decision to render all his watercolour, pen and ink and coloured pencil drawings from the perspective of the hamster was a really clever choice.

-30-

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