Spanning the period between the Chicago World's Fair of 1893 and the years just after World War I, "Against the Day" moves from the labor troubles in Colorado to turn-of-the-century New York to London and Gottingen, Venice and Vienna, the Balkans, Central Asia, Siberia at the time of the mysterious Tunguska Event, Mexico during the revolution, Paris, silent-era Hollywood, and one or two places not strictly speaking on the map at all. With a worldwide disaster looming just a few years ahead, it is a time of unrestrained ...
Spanning the period between the Chicago World's Fair of 1893 and the years just after World War I, "Against the Day" moves from the labor troubles in Colorado to turn-of-the-century New York to London and Gottingen, Venice and Vienna, the Balkans, Central Asia, Siberia at the time of the mysterious Tunguska Event, Mexico during the revolution, Paris, silent-era Hollywood, and one or two places not strictly speaking on the map at all. With a worldwide disaster looming just a few years ahead, it is a time of unrestrained corporate greed, false religiosity, moronic fecklessness, and evil intent in high places. The sizable cast of characters includes anarchists, balloonists, gamblers, corporate tycoons, drug enthusiasts, innocents and decadents, mathematicians, mad scientists, shamans, psychics and stage magicians, spies, detectives, adventuresses and hired guns. There are cameo appearances by Nikola Tesla, Bela Lugosi, and Groucho Marx. As an era of certainty comes crashing down around their ears and an unpredictable future commences, these folks are mostly just trying to pursue their lives. Sometimes they manage to catch up; sometimes it's their lives that pursue them. Meanwhile, Thomas Pynchon is up to his usual business. Characters stop what they're doing to sing what are for the most part stupid songs. Strange sexual practices take place. Obscure languages are spoken, not always idiomatically. Contrary-to-fact occurrences occur. Maybe it's not the world, but with a minor adjustment or two it's what the world might be.
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Thomas Pynchon's first book in almost 10 years is...what we've come to expect. Against the Day is a sprawling narrative that includes over 100 characters and covers time travel, advanced mathematics, mining sabotage, a gang of boy scout-like zeppelin-riders, and much more. It's dense and convoluted, just like everything Pynchon has ever written, but this feels different. He's more settled in this novel, maybe due to his age, but the plot feels more like a regular book than a typical Pynchon head-spinner. His characters are as rich and colorful as ever, breaking into song for no reason, walking through walls that aren't really there, performing complex zeta-functions on the bottom of beer bottles...you get the idea. While anyone discovering Pynchon should start with The Crying of Lot 49, this is a welcome addition to his catalog.
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