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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

June 1 1995 0140188592 978-0140188592 Reprint
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
4 of 4 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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1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Not to everyone's tastes but... Jan. 11 2004
Format:Paperback 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. stream of consciousness, making it hard to fit plot in any chronological order. In fact rumour has it that doctoral theses have been written on a kind of linear summation of the tome.
Not being an English Lit major, or recieved any education that would help me understand this story I debated doing independent research to try to further enlighten any gracious readers' of this review. However in the end I decided to forego any gratuitous analysis of the text.
Because bottom line, sure one could study this epic in courses, and on one site a reader asked in fact why it wasn't studied in high school, (not going to digress further along this vein), but that is just an example of the density of Pynchon's work. As I started to say thoughm that is only half the story behind Gravity's Rainbow. It deserves to be a classic, or at least neo-classic of literature, for the style of writing, and thematic importance. It also deserves to be read simply for the enoyment of reading, which is why I didn't qoute many papers writen on it, I read it not to study but to luxuriate in the love of language Pynchon obviously shares with many readers. It admittedly took e over 100 pages to get into, as I hadn't read anything stylistically comparable since Joyce, but once I really started reading it, I loved it for its uniqueness, boldness, and for the characters (although the achilles heel as characterization isn't the strongest trait.) Sara Nelson in her memoir stated she meant to read this title because lots of people of intelligence have tackled it, I say tackle it for the sheer joy of Pynchon's manic literary energy.
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5.0 out of 5 stars Singing! Dancing! Debauchery! March 21 2004
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 the bible. Yes, it's not an easy read, but it's only really trying if you're reading it as a 'great novel,' trying to figure out what Pynchon is saying all the time. If you just read it, I think, you'll enjoy yourself, and maybe some resonance of a point will emerge afterwards. There is a motive here, but basically the book is just fun. I hear GR condemned as 'pretentious' all the time. But how can you say that about a book in which ten pages never pass without some character bursting into song, in which the protagonist is chased in a hot-air balloon by a gang of limerick-reciting thugs, in which a girl is attacked by a giant octopus, a book which sheds light on the great Mother's Conspiracy? One thing GR never is is boring. At the beginning, the narrative is perfectly coherent with only a few eccentricities of style; by the end, when it really starts disintegrating, you've gotten used to it. And although I've said it isn't that difficult, there is some prestige in having finished a book which has defeated so many intellectuals. Read it, and the next time you hear someone complaining about the dense prose, say brightly: "Oh yeah, I loved that book! Especially the limericks!"
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5.0 out of 5 stars To The Counterforce! Nov. 19 2003
The book is a challenge, but enjoyable if you follow it on its own terms. My advice: start on page 1, and keep reading until the end, NO MATTER WHAT HAPPENS! You are not an idiot if some of the episodes make no sense. Some of the stranger paths of Pynchon's thought probably require a few readings to sort out anyway (and undoubtedly, some paths that strike home to one reader will not for another). Don't let it bother you, however. The book is actually very soundly constructed, and a careful first reading will reveal a wonderfully unique take on the second half of the twentieth century. Though the novel is set mainly during WWII, "Gravity's Rainbow" is really about the "Age of Anxiety" brought on by the Cold War.
The Rocket is as big a symbol in this book as the whale is in Moby Dick, but it also serves as an anchor to the novel's myriad themes. Anyone growing up during the Cold War knows the dread, paranoia, and sometimes salvific humour the spector of remote-control nuclear weaponry conveyed, and will recognize the opening "screaming across the sky" of the V-2's as a precursor to such nasty peacemakers (the parallel, or equivalency, depending on your read, is made explicit in the final pages of the book). Keep this in mind, especially during the parts (and they will come) where you are wondering what the hell the book is up to. Ultimately, this is a book about paranoia in an insane world, and whether or not you agree with Pynchon's somewhat juvenile politics, he captures the feel of modern madness perfectly. This is a an epic liebestod of the nuclear age (which is still our age, though we'd rather not admit it), a kind of literary, speaking-in-tongues version of "Dr. Strangelove." If you have the stomach for it, you will probably love it.
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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 One of the best
Given the cultural and political climate today, and especially in America, it's no wonder that more people are re-discovering GRAVITY'S RAINBOW. Read more
Published on Jan. 7 2005 by Robert Crandle, Jr.
4.0 out of 5 stars Read it for reading's sake
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. Read more
Published on May 21 2004
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
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
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