Monday, June 20, 2022

Hilarity from Page One

The Crying of Lot 49
The Crying of Lot 49 

“I came," she said, "hoping you could talk me out of a fantasy." Cherish it!" cried Hilarious, fiercely. "What else do any of you have? Hold it tightly by it's little tentacle, don't let the Freudians coax it away or the pharmacists poison it out of you. Whatever it is, hold it dear, for when you lose it you go over by that much to the others. You begin to cease to be.”   ― Thomas Pynchon, The Crying of Lot 49

This is one of the funniest books I have ever read. From the opening page the names, the events, the plot, all serve to provide humor in many ways. The story is disjointed by an abundance of ideas that only loosely hang together.
What impressed me the most, the moments that had me laughing out loud instead of just smiling (which I did on almost every page), were some of the most outrageous names like that of the protagonist Oedipa Maas and her husband Mucho Mass (!); but also Dr. Hilarious, Mike Fallopian, Arnold Snarb, Genghis Cohen, and many others on almost every page - there were no John Smiths in this book.

There were also the connections, at least those that I noted, that seemed to occur without warning. One connection that I found most exciting was when I remembered a passing reference to Cornell University on the opening page of the novel when I noted, on the first page of the final chapter, a song written by one of the characters Oedipa had only recently met which included the name "Humbert Humbert" in the lyrics. (I hope the connection requires no explanation.)

But that leads to the best aspect of the narrative, for it is surreal, having an absurd quality like it was a perpetual dream sequence. The events do not seem to follow any pattern, although there is the arc of the story based on Oedipa's nomination to be executor of the will of one Pierce Inverarity, which event did not seem to be explained by anything she could think of -- a letter from his law firm "said Pierce had died back in the spring, and they'd only just now found the will. . . She tried to think back to whether anything unusual had happened around then" (when she had been designated in a codicil the previous year). That is the event that sets her on her wild journey. It's one that involves unexpected events that tumble after each other culminating in a denouement that connects with the opening in an unexpected, perhaps bizarre, way. I will not attempt to explain the plot which involves bone charcoal, an Elizabethan drama, named "The Courier's Tragedy" which at least seems appropriate given other aspects of the plot, a modern megacorporation (wonderfully named Yoyodyne), and a mystery about an ancient symbol that is somehow connected to a valuable postage stamp. That list should be enough to whet any reader's appetite while suggesting how outrageously surreal the narrative becomes.

Needless to say I could not put the book down, for it was an exciting read in addition to being hilarious on almost every page. I would highly recommend this to readers who enjoy the works of authors like Sterne, Joyce or, in a more contemporary vein, Haruki Murikami.


CyberKitten said...

Excellent. I have a few Pynchon's lined up waiting to be read. I'll see if I can squeeze this one in this year!

Cleo said...

What a great review! I've always though this book a little too modern for me but now I'm definitely going to give it a try. I need a good laugh! Thanks for the stellar recommendation!

James said...

This would be a good book to test your ability to withstand Pynchon's relentless intellectual references and his inability to avoid outrageous sidetracks that may or may not be connected to the main narrative (if there is one).

This is definitely postmodern or at least some variation on it. I found humor in most of the outrageous situations and the sixties cultural references