There’s a longing at the heart of Against the Day, a tortured desire to redeem and amend—the theme is taken up as vengeance but played out as nostalgia. Order is never restored in Pynchon’s universe, though things change: an old enemy dies ignominiously at the hands of his bodyguard, an assassin is taken unawares, third parties do away with a traitorous spy. No one takes much pleasure in these messy ends—death comes too quickly to afford the living any satisfaction. The final pages of the novel offer a frazzled sentimental tale of coupling and growing old, where antique outlaws are domesticated and matters come more or less right only in the way they go more or less wrong. The idea of time travel, though lugged in for laughs, suggests a hankering to go back and fix things (in science fiction, the theme usually turns into tragic farce—tragedy if you like science fiction, farce if you don’t). Yet when men arrive from some indefinite future, fleeing some unimaginable global catastrophe, they seem only to want to be left alone, the most pitiable of refugees.
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