Children of Paradise: Pynchon’s Against the Day

For a book that travels so far and wide, the traveling itself is strangely told. Places are not separated by the distances, at least not distances crossed. Vehicles, whose retinue includes airships, navy destroyers disguised as passenger ships, manned torpedoes that buzz Venetian canals like vespas sawing through water on two-stroke fashion engines (Ciao! Ciao!), camels, horses, eagles (is that Mordor down below, Frodo? What is it you carry and that weighs upon your heart, so, Frodo?), not to mention time machines, are too imaginary to provide reliable transportation. What is the reader to make of all this?

I have intentionally avoided reading any reviews of the book, so as to plough through it on whatever strange connections my own head is capable of (a Rube Goldberg design, useful for traveing far as long as getting anywhere is not of any real consequence). And though I still believe that our characters are playing cards (I believe each family has four members in its suit, but those of you earlier in the book, help me) I’ve not yet checked out the Tarot deck to see if our characters’ descriptions match those of Tarot cards.

But there’s another realization creeping up on me (and ain’t this the distinct pleasure of reading a Pynchon novel? Those sneaking moments when you’re not sure whose reading whom, when author and reader seem to suddenly occupy the same head-space? Pynchon has a gift for engaging the reader to such a degree that the space between the novel and reader collapses into some strange zone of indeterminibility, the reading and the thinking now being one and the same, reader propelled forward by the sheer proximity of his own thoughts to the author’s fantastic prose…), and it’s that we’re still at the Chicago World’s Fair… Never left it folks.

By means I’m not certain of, we are making our way from pavilion to pavilion, as if in some weird Toy Story-Lord of the Rings odyssey set in a theme park featuring carnival rides, shooting galleries, Tarot readings, ferris wheels, balloon rides, Venetian gondolas, a hall of mirrors, Western saloons, bucket rides along cables and powered scooters and bicycles? A fantastic cartoon-like pursuit whose narratives bubble and froth with mythic as well as mystic force, but are enacted by a hapless and hopeless cast of marionnette dolls whose personalities include Darth Vader, Bilbo Baggins, Alice in Wonderland, Little Nemo, Houdini, Tweedle Dum and Tweedle Dee, Willy Wonka, the Wizard of Oz, Gandalf, and lord only knows who else…

Against the Day is at times incredibly unstable and uncertain, as if the book itself is a heaving, shaking, wheezing, and sputtering compendium of yarns unravelling, a Gargantuan rip-roaring roller coaster of a ride through frollicking revelries and reveries hoist on a petard un-tethered to the taut matrix of paranoia that structures Pynchon’s earlier efforts, manic and modern, fantastically filled with illusion and trickery, and simply howling with the pleasures of children given over to games and gibberish.

People, what have we done to ourselves?!

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