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Sunday Read: Three Reviews of Thomas Pynchon’s Bleeding Edge (Plus: The Best Book Trailer in the History of the World)

Bleeding EdgeThomas Pynchon, the reclusive author who “hides in plain sight” on the Upper West Side of Manhattan (making him a Sleazus, as explained in the hilarious trailer for his new book, above, a Sleazus being an Upper West Side macher, which is, in turn, simply a person who gets things done, as in novels written and journalists avoided and praise garnered by William Gibson for videos made in one’s honour that one had nothing, literally, to do with, to the point that one doesn’t even know, in all likelihood, that it exists) has a new book out, which means we have a literary event to report on and a moment of pop culture to gawk at and yes I have now completed my one-sentence Pynchonesque intro to this trio of reviews of said new 9/11 novel, Bleeding Edge.

Are you ready for Thomas (Screaming Comes Across the Sky) Pynchon on the subject of Sept. 11, 2001? On the one hand, his poetry of paranoia and his grasp of history’s surrealist passages make a perfect fit. Yet his slippery insouciance, his relentless japery, risk being tonally at odds with the subject. Either way, and despite his sensibility’s entrenchment in ’60s Californian hippiedom, Pynchon is a New Yorker, with an intimate license to depict the sulfurous gray plumes and tragic tableaus of that irreconcilable moment: “On the way home she passes the neighborhood firehouse. They’re in working on one of the trucks. . . . She threads among the daily bunches of flowers on the sidewalk, which will be cleared in a while. The list of firefighters here who were lost on 11 September is kept back someplace more intimate, out of the public face, anybody wants to see it they can ask, but sometimes it shows more respect not to put such things out on a billboard. . . . What makes these guys choose to go in, work 24-hour shifts and then keep working, keep throwing themselves into those shaky ruins, torching through steel, bringing people to safety, recovering parts of others, ending up sick, beat up by nightmares, disrespected, dead?”

It has been 50 years since Thomas Pynchon’s first book, “V.,” was published. That he is still turning out works of dizzying complexity is, frankly, astounding. Few authors remain as ambitious and accomplished for so long.

Enter “Bleeding Edge,” a detective novel set in 2001 in Manhattan after the first dot-com boom-and-bust. Protagonist Maxine Tarnow is a defrocked fraud investigator, a rule-breaking accountant who is drawn into Internet business dealings and worse by a former lover-slash-documentarian, aided by mysterious deliveries from a bike messenger who still rides under the orange jersey of, the online store than went belly-up.

IN 1984, at the height of what SF fans and critics would come to consider the era of cyberpunk, Thomas Pynchon published a brief piece in the New York Times Book Review entitled “Is It O.K. To Be A Luddite?” A few years before, Ridley Scott’s Blade Runner, along with the early short fictions of William Gibson, had begun to evoke a certain gritty, techno-noir landscape, brilliantly crystallized in Gibson’s first novel, Neuromancer (1984). Considering the critical attention these works received, it seems a bit more than coincidental that Pynchon’s first published writing in 11 years — except for his introduction to a collection of previously published short stories, Slow Learner, released the same year — should directly address some of the same concerns as these cyberpunk texts.

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