pynchon as serious moral fiction

17208457Cassandra Nelson at First Things:

Don’t be fooled by the slapstick comedy and the silly names, the labyrinthine plots that careen around and veer maddeningly toward irresolution and paranoia, the playful gags and the abundant nods to pop culture—or to stoner culture, for that matter. Thomas Pynchon writes serious ­moral fiction.

Although his name has become a byword for postmodernism and impenetrable prose, Bleeding Edgemakes clearer than ever before what has been true since the publication of V. half a century ago: Pynchon is a writer with a profound, unwavering moral vision and an abiding commitment to realism. Not the realism of a Balzac or a Howells, of course, but the kind employed by Dostoevsky and Flannery O’Connor, the kind that forgoes verisimilitude in favor of the fantastic and the grotesque in order to make a point about the nature of reality—what is real and enduring, and what isn’t.

“Tanks are mortal, pears eternal,” was Milan Kundera’s memorable formulation in The Book of Laughter and Forgetting, and this eloquent phrase pretty well captures Pynchon’s take on the subject, too. Perennial champion of the animate over the inanimate, tireless advocate of love, not war, he begins and ends Bleeding Edge with the simultaneous bursting into bloom of “what looks like every Callery Pear tree on the Upper West Side,” as Ziggy and Otis, two brothers on the cusp of adolescence, head to school.

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