Thursday, December 12, 2013

Pynchon, Raymond Chandler, Off Roading and Terra Incognita

I wake up between 4:00 and 4:30 a.m. I make coffee. I light the Christmas Tree. And after my first sip of caffeinated salvation, I sit down with Thomas Pynchon's "Mason & Dixon." Generally a chapter a morning. Each one is roughly between five and 12 pages. I've just past the 300 page mark. Come evening, I grab for Kevin Barry's "Dark Lies the Island," as my brain isn't suited for Pynchon at the end of the day (the link is to The Millions interview with Kevin Barry, which is one of the great writer interviews you will ever read. We will discuss another time).

A friend recently professed his preference for Raymond Chandler over Pynchon. I understand. I dig them both, though I'm no expert. I've read Chandler's "The Big Sleep" and this is my first Pynchon. But the two certainly set about their business differently.

Reading Pynchon is going off road. You aren't following a paved road, a well-maintained trail, or even a backwoods singletrack. He's leading you through the wilderness, into Terra Incognita. That is likely part of the point with "Mason & Dixon," where the riff is man's drawing of boundaries, of trying to record, chart, make sense of the wider world, the stars, the universe. The book and my mind both wander. I like wandering.

Raymond Chandler is a man at home with a pipe. His plots and characters drive his stories. He elevated the detective story to literary status. I flew through "The Big Sleep." Chandler gives his readers a map. Or at least hints at a map. Reading Chandler is an adventure, albeit a different sort from reading Pynchon. That's not to say that Chandler is formulaic, he is brilliant. And I can't get enough his notion about technique vs. ideas, "The moment a man begins to talk about technique, that's proof that he is fresh out of ideas." His letters read like essays.

At present, I am wandering America in the 1700s with Pynchon, Mason and Dixon. I've got Chandler's "The Long Goodbye" on my list of next books to read. There is time in the mind for off road adventures and grand prix.

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