November 16, 2013 by Reader's Connection
Maxine, a fraud investigator in New York City, is on almost every page of Thomas Pynchon’s new novel Bleeding Edge, so I manage to keep track of her. But most of the other characters are more elusive. A name will pop up–Cornelia, for example–and I’ll wonder if I’m supposed to know this person. Then I’ll realize that Cornelia is married to Rocky, and I’ll think “Oh, yeah, I pretty much remember Rocky.”
Why do I keep reading this thing? Because it keeps me laughing. Reg Despard, who is introduced in the second chapter, and whom I’ve remembered, is a “documentary guy” who helps Maxine with some of her fraud work, but began as a movie pirate, smuggling his camcorder into theaters.
Professional quality tended to suffer around the edges, noisy filmgoers bringing their lunch in loud paper bags or getting up in the middle of the movie to block the view, often for minutes of running time. Reg’s grip on the camcorder not always being that steady, the screen would wander around in the frame, sometimes slow and dreamy though other times with stunning abruptness. When Reg discovered the zoom feature on his camcorder, there was a lot of zooming in and out for what you’d have to call its own sake, details of human anatomy, extras in crowd scenes, hip-looking cars in the background traffic, so forth. One fateful day in Washington Square, Reg happened to sell one of his cassettes to a professor at NYU who taught film, who next day came running down the street after Reg to ask, out of breath, if Reg knew how far ahead of the leading edge of this post-postmodern art form he was working, “with your neo-Brechtian subversion of the diegesis.”
Because this somehow sounded like a pitch for a Christian weight-loss program, Reg’s attention began to drift, but . . . soon Reg was showing his tapes to doctoral seminars . . .
Hearing this unraveling prose on the audiobook CD while driving must be fun, though a bit unsafe.
Maxine’s current investigation involves embezzlement, strange occurrences on the Deep Web, and at least one murder out here in meatspace–what you and I call the real world. I’m not doing much better with the story line than I am with the characters. Our tale is set in 2001, and I’m not giving anything away when I say that the terrorist attacks of 9/11 come to pass. Maxine is bombarded with paranoid theories about who’s responsible, but I was surprised by the thoughtfulness Pynchon displays when Maxine walks past a firehouse where men have been lost, and surprised by how moving her Thanksgiving meal is, that year. (I’ve only read one and a half Pynchon novels, prior to this one.)
After page 300 or so, I began to do better with the characters. Horst, who hails from the Midwest, is Maxine’s sometime husband. Otis and Ziggy are her sons. She’s a Jewish mother, as well as a fraud investigator, and these identities complement one another. Let’s finish with an upbeat passage:
The spread on the Jets-Indianapolis game Sunday is 2 points. Horst, regionally loyal as always, bets Ziggy and Otis a pizza that the Colts will win, which in fact they do in a 21-point walkover. Peyton Manning can do no wrong, Vinny Testaverde is a little less consistent, managing in the last five minutes for example to fumble on the Colts’ 2-yard line to a defensive end who then proceeds to run the ball 98 yards to a touchdown, as Testaverde alone chases him up the field while the rest of the Jets look on, and Ziggy and Otis lapse into intemperate language their father doesn’t see how he can call them out for.
Almost forgot: Bleeding Edge is nominated for the National Book Award–the winners will be announced next Wednesday, November 20th–and the book would make a great gift for any Pynchon fan on your list who hasn’t already read it.