Gravity’s Rainbow is a truly difficult book to read, mostly because of the complex language that often clips itself off at various times, paragraphs that go on and on, and a self-referential style that is both dense and ambiguous. To say that this book is significantly easier to read is a way of saying that the language is much more fluent, recognizable, and less dense. That’s not to say that this book is in fact easy to read because while the language is more accessible, there almost no plot for 1100 pages. Or more to the point, there’s so much plot, that there’s almost de facto no plot. Ultimately the story is mostly a revenge story. A well-known magnate calls a hit upon a well-known anarchist in the American Midwest right after the 1892 Chicago World’s Fair. This begins a revenge plot when the anarchist’s two sons begin their revenge search. But that’s a throughline in this book that is surrounded by huge numbers of digressions, subplots, character study’s, treatises on science and mythology and other topics, some cowboy stories, some spy stories, some adventures, a talking or at least understandable dog, airships etc.
The book is written in the style of pulp genres from the late 19th and early 20th centuries, particularly adventure stories, wild west stories, spy stories, and then a kind of philosophical style of “idea” novels. There’s a moment early on when one character, thinking about another real person who has been the subject of numerous pulp adventures concludes that he can’t recall what really happened and what he actually just read. This is the question at the center of everything. By attempting in a way to narrate a full breadth, or at least a giant spread, of American fin de siècle or more to the point pre-WWI cultural mythology, the novel collapses upon itself in the fact of having little to no story. Don’t confuse this with something like John Dos Passos’s USA Trilogy, where there are clear, readable stories. And don’t confuse this with a book that is unreadable to too cryptic for most people to get through like Finnegan’s Wake. It’s all here, it’s not a puzzle really, but it’s a wave that has to be ridden more than mastered.