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Gravity's Rainbow (Penguin Twentieth Century Classics) [Paperback]

Thomas Pynchon
4.1 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (222 customer reviews)
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Book Description

July 14 1995 Classic, 20th-Century, Penguin
In the mid-1960s, the publication of Pynchon's V and The Crying of Lot 49 introduced a brilliant new voice to American literature. Gravity's Rainbow, his convoluted, allusive novel about a metaphysical quest, published in 1973, further confirmed Pynchon's reputation as one of the greatest writers of the century.

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Tyrone Slothrop, a GI in London in 1944, has a big problem. Whenever he gets an erection, a Blitz bomb hits. Slothrop gets excited, and then (as Thomas Pynchon puts it in his sinister, insinuatingly sibilant opening sentence), "a screaming comes across the sky," heralding an angel of death, a V-2 rocket. The novel's title, Gravity's Rainbow, refers to the rocket's vapor arc, a cruel dark parody of what God sent Noah to symbolize his promise never to destroy humanity again. History has been a big trick: the plan is to switch from floods to obliterating fire from the sky.

Slothrop's father was an unwitting part of the cosmic doublecross. To provide for the boy's future Harvard education, he took cash from the mad German scientist Laszlo Jamf, who performed Pavlovian experiments on the infant Tyrone. Laszlo invented Imipolex G, a new plastic useful in rocket insulation, and conditioned Tyrone's privates to respond to its presence. Now the grown-up Tyrone helplessly senses the Imipolex G in incoming V-2s, and his military superiors are investigating him. Soon he is on the run from legions of bizarre enemies through the phantasmagoric horrors of Germany.

That's just the Imipolex G tip of the shrieking vehicle that is Pynchon's book. It's pretty much impossible to follow a standard plot; one must have faith that each manic episode is connected with the great plot to blow up the world with the ultimate rocket. There is not one story, but a proliferation of characters (Pirate Prentice, Teddy Bloat, Tantivy Mucker-Maffick, Saure Bummer, and more) and events that tantalize the reader with suggestions of vast patterns only just past our comprehension. You will enjoy Pynchon's cartoon inferno far more if you consult Steven Weisenburger's brief companion to the novel, which sorts out Pynchon's blizzard of references to science, history, high culture, and the lowest of jokes. Rest easy: there really is a simple reason why Kekulé von Stradonitz's dream about a serpent biting its tail (which solved the structure of the benzene molecule) belongs in the same novel as the comic-book-hero Plastic Man.

Pynchon doesn't want you to rest easy with solved mysteries, though. Gravity's Rainbow uses beautiful prose to induce an altered state of consciousness, a buzz. It's a trip, and it will last. --Tim Appelo


"The best seller described as the kind of Ulysses which Joyce might have written if he had been a Boeing engineer with a fetish for quadrille paper" Irish Examiner "I read this at 19 or so and just thought, like, f*ck, wow: this is the marker, the pace-setter for the contemporary novel" -- Tom McCarthy, author of 'C' "Thomas Pynchon, the greatest, wildest and most infuriating author of his generation." -- Ian Rankin Guardian "Pynchon is both the US's most serious and most funny writer." -- Thomas Leveritt Independent "Gravity's Rainbow is bonecrushingly dense, compulsively elaborate, silly, obscene, funny, tragic, pastoral, historical, philosophical, poetic, grindingly dull, inspired, horrific, cold, bloated, beached and blasted.[Pynchon's] novel is in this sense a work of paranoid genius, a magnificent necropolis that will take its place amidst the grand detritus of our culture. Its teetering structure is greater by far than the many surrounding literary shacks and hovels." New York Times --This text refers to an alternate Paperback edition.

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Customer Reviews

Most helpful customer reviews
3 of 3 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars ridiculous, and wonderful. Sept. 11 2003
By A Customer
Pynchon's _Gravity's Rainbow_ is one of my favorite novels. There, that's out of the way. I will try to describe the novel for you.
It's big. The story is sprawling, all over Europe during the end of WWII, and following that war. The characters are numerous. The plot is ridiculous and absurd; the writing is beautiful.
Most importantly, the novel is funny. I laughed aloud repeatedly. It took me a month to read this book; at times it is grotesque and awful, and difficult to digest. It is Pynchon's longest and most difficult-to-read novel. Most similar to V., it is profane and never delicate. The chaos and absurdity of war is revealed without precision, but with explosive mastery.
I recommend this novel, especially to fans of Neal Stephenson, John Barth, William Gass, and William S. Burroughs. I also believe that Catch 22 fans will enjoy.
If you have read other novels by Thomas Pynchon, please also begin _Gravity's Rainbow_. If you have not read others by Pynchon, start with his first novel _V._. The title is just the letter V.
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2 of 3 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Don't drop it on your nuts June 17 2003
Whatever one may think of GR as a novel, there is no doubt about the richness, range, and depth of Pychon's intellect and his themes and ideas. GR is clearly a book that challenges the reader on many levels, and the novel's themes and meanings also work on many levels.
People have complained about the difficulty of the book. To me there are relative degrees of difficulty, and there's a big difference between something that's merely esoteric or recondite, because one doesn't understand the vocabulary, and something that's really intellectually difficult to understand--like quantum physics. For example, take Pynchon's large vocabulary and his allusions to various mythic but obscure Qabbalistic, Celtic, and Christian facts and ideas. A good dictionary will fix the first problem, and a good encyclopedia of world myths and religion will fix the second problem, of which I've seen at least a couple on sale at local bookstores recently.
But getting back to GR, Pynchon's writing style is either the benefactor or perhaps victim of this richness, and I did find his style somewhat ponderous occasionally, and his long sentences and long-winded descriptions of things to be a bit labored and hyperborean at times. Someone once said the reason why no-one reads John Milton except English majors and professors is because no-one has the patience for Miltonian periods anymore. Since both authors often write sentences that go on for a more like a paragraph or even a bigger portion of a page, the same could be said of Pynchon. You can find sentences with exclamation points in the middle, sentences with multiple dashes and ellipses, and multiple sentence fragments that refer to other sentence fragments. One could almost say that his style is more about punctuation and syntax than semantics.
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3 of 5 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Read it for reading's sake May 21 2004
By A Customer
Before I throw in my two cents, I should admit that, aside from Faulkner, I believe Pynchon to be the most gifted American writer of the 20th Century. I've read all of his books (as I have Faulkner's), and some of them more than once. Therefore, the following remarks are not those of a dispassionate and objective critic, but of a fan. That being said, the first time I read Gravity's Rainbow, I was as perplexed as most. And yet, even in my confusion, I couldn't help but recognize the beauty of the writing. Say what you will, Pynchon's prose is undeniably some of the most beautifully written stuff out there. The second time I read it, I did so in conjunction with Weisenburger's annotations, and both before and after the second reading, read some articles and essays presenting possible themes, interpretations, intentions of the author, etc., etc. I was really getting into Pynchon at this time and was reading his other novels as well. All of this reading, research, whatever, sparked new ideas about the book, clarified, and sometimes reaffirmed, notions that had arisen in my first, and more strongly, my second reading of the novel, and gave me a fuller understanding of Pynchon's influences, his ideas, and how he was attempting to present those ideas in his work, especially this, his "masterpiece." But there was no revelation, no comprehensive understanding of the book, no "Oh, I get it" (although overall, when appraising the novel as a whole, I did feel less confused) and those seeking such a thing when reading fiction, I feel, are somewhat misguided. "Comprehensive understanding," to me, sounds a little oxymoronic, and very likely nonexistent. Read more ›
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2 of 3 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars One of the best Jan. 7 2005
Given the cultural and political climate today, and especially in America, it's no wonder that more people are re-discovering GRAVITY'S RAINBOW. The book (1973) was published during the Vietnam and Nixon era, a time when many Americans began feeling suspicious about their government. And while GR is a historical fictional novel about Pynchon's imaginary years after WWII, the ominous tone, which permeates the entire book, is rather timely and fitting. I was reminded at times of Jackson McCrae in his BARK OF THE DOGWOOD (think intricacies and size, not plot or themes) and indeed, just as one needs to be educated to read McCrae, one needs the same to tackle Pynchon. But Pynchon's writing is really for me more of a mix of McCrae and Robbins (think, EVEN COWGIRLS GET THE BLUES). Vonnegut is another one, though Curt sometimes veers off into a more commercially viable land. A key to the whole thing in GR is that the book's narrative structure completely fragments on August 6, 1945, when hell was unleashed on Hiroshima by the U.S. government and its mil-indus-com subsidiaries. Once again, you have to be up on your history to fully appreciate Mr. P. A good thesaurus doesn't hurt either as many of the words are extremely of the beaten path-this done on purpose and admitted to by the master himself. This is not a small book, and if you've not read Pychon before, I would recommend that you start with his much smaller but equally fascinating CRYING OF LOT 49, then work your way up to GR.
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Most recent customer reviews
1.0 out of 5 stars Gravity's Rainbow Review
I keep this book on my shelf for profiling purposes. When someone tells me how great it is, I casually take it in my hands and beat them senseless with it.
Published on Dec 15 2010 by Paul Kersey
5.0 out of 5 stars Gravity in motion
GRAVITY'S RAINBOW isn't a book that's read and put on the shelf, it's intended to change the way we view our world by becoming a part of it. Read more
Published on March 24 2005 by Brace Gfeen
5.0 out of 5 stars Greatest American Novel of the Last Century
This book is woefully underappreciated, in large part, I suspect, because of all the terminal 'glitz' surrounding it- in re its opaqueness, its fairly mammoth scope, its... Read more
Published on April 22 2004 by Sean M. Winkel
1.0 out of 5 stars absolute garbage
Maybe it's entertaining if you take huge quantities of lsd, otherwise it's a nightmare. Pynchon forces offensive, sexist, nonsensical free-associations at the reader for hundreds... Read more
Published on April 12 2004 by Phat Phallus
5.0 out of 5 stars Singing! Dancing! Debauchery!
This book has an undeserved reputation. People I've known refer to it as though it were some kind of monolithic, unapproachable text, like the Bible, or the Greek translation of... Read more
Published on March 21 2004 by Henry Platte
1.0 out of 5 stars doorstop
Certain books are written (and read) in order to impress other people with how smart one is. The technique is simple, invented by Joyce and imitated here by Pynchon: adopt an... Read more
Published on March 14 2004
5.0 out of 5 stars amazingly worth it
Fantastic prose, a great cast of characters, and a series of events that leave you alternately amazed, pensive, and completely pulled into the book. Read more
Published on Feb. 7 2004 by J. Fairfield
5.0 out of 5 stars The big one
Endlessly fascinating. Look up every word and get a college education for free.
Published on Feb. 6 2004 by Bartleby Scrivener
5.0 out of 5 stars humor in book is underappreciated
I would like to focus on the parts of this book that are very funny. The song lyrics and limericks are all very good, as is the "gross-out dinner" where the boys... Read more
Published on Jan. 29 2004 by Maxim St. Pierre
4.0 out of 5 stars Not to everyone's tastes but... is hard to find a coherent plot in Pynchon's post-modern masterpiece.
"Gravity's Rainbow" is am immense novel written in Ullysean style, i.e. Read more
Published on Jan. 11 2004 by paul mason
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