Proving I learned very little from the Intellectual Property law textbook in my previous review, I stole the title of this review from one of the top questions about this book in GoodReads. To your question I saw: I am with you, sir. The other title I considered was “Am I a bad literature major?” Maybe I’ll leave that as a theoretical question, I feel like Pynchon would appreciate that.
This is a slender little volume that I think is commenting on conspiracy theories and modern excess? Our story opens with our protagonist, Oedipa Maas, receiving a letter advising her that she has been appointed as the executrix for her ex-boyfriend, Pierce Invararity’s, estate. He husband, Mucho Maas, is not too pleased, but she ignores his misgivings and sets off for Pierce’s home in San Narcisco (a fictional suburb of Los Angeles). [I’m going to take just a moment to comment on the names and bizarro world that Pynchon is creating- I found them incredibly distracting. I actually had to stop and reread things to remember what an Inverarity was, and he just keeps throwing them at you- Dr. Hilarious her shrink, Mike Fallopian, a conspiracy theorist, Randy Driblette, a scholar, Ghengis Cohen, a stamp expert.]
Once in San Narcisco, Oedipa keeps seeing a muted post-horn symbol (ie: an outline drawing of a bugle- on the cover if you need the visual), and then the story of a battle of couriers keeps popping up all over the place (there is a ‘play within a play’ titled The Courier’s Tragedy that she goes to see and which seems like it may be based on a historical story- whether real or just within this book I couldn’t tell you). She keeps following this symbol all over the city, drifting away from her husband into a conspiracy theory that I can’t quite figure out (normally a conspiracy theory feels like its answering important questions for you about how the world works and who actually is pulling the strings of power. I couldn’t understand why the pulling of strings behind any kind of postal service would be drawing a layperson in as a captivating theory on anything). The story ends with her waiting to find out who has bought an auction lot at Inverarity’s estate sale- somehow the bidder on Inverarity’s stamp collection (lot 49) will have answers for her about the mysterious symbol and what it means.
This was not an easy read- at more than one point (and again in writing this review), I had to google what the F was happening. I am still not sure it was worth it, aside from now knowing that this wasn’t my book (sometimes cult classics are like that- you’re just not part of that particular cult I suppose?). At least it is short, so if you’re like me and have trouble abandoning books in the middle, you can read to the end and only have lost a few hours of your life. I also think there are some really inspiring quotes that GoodReads has pulled out, and that makes me sad that I missed them as I was trying to muddle through the plot. Lines like, “This is America, you live in it, you let it happen. Let it unfurl”- absolutely, yes! Why can’t we dwell on that Pynchon, instead of Ghengis the stamp collector?