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Waiting for Thomas Pynchon's 'Bleeding Edge'

February 26, 2013
  • The reclusive Thomas Pynchon, as portrayed on "The Simpsons."
The reclusive Thomas Pynchon, as portrayed on "The Simpsons." (Screenshot via PynchonWiki )

The literary world's most-beloved "Simpsons" character is set to release a new novel on Sept. 17. The news of Thomas Pynchon's book, said to be called "Bleeding Edge," originally came to light last month. New details about the book seeped out Monday in a tweet by Sarah Weinman of Publisher's Marketplace, setting off a buzz of excitement online.  

But the source proved the announcement to be even more Pynchonian in character: Penguin Books, Thomas Pynchon's publisher, had included the news as a line item in its 2012 year-end financial report. 

The report, which details a $156-million profit for the publishing house, gives a tantalizingly brief sneak peek at Pynchon's eagerly awaited novel, mentioning only that it is set in “2001 in Silicon Alley, New York City, in the lull between the collapse of the dot-com boom and the terrible events of September 11.”  

It seems like a perfect milieu for the 75-year-old, potential Nobel Prize candidate, incorporating technology, the spectacle and tragedy of 9/11, scheming radicals, and the financial sector.  The famously reclusive author is known for his dense, information-soaked fiction; "The Crying of Lot 49" and "Gravity's Rainbow" are regarded as modern classics.

It's been four years since Pynchon's last, a lull that's short compared to the 17 years between "Gravity's Rainbow" (1973) and "Vineland" (1990).  "Inherent Vice" in 2009, about a private investigator in late-1960s Los Angeles, got mixed reviews (though not so mixed in The Times). It is reportedly being adapted as a film by director Paul Thomas Anderson, starring Joaquin Phoenix as the stoner detective "Doc" Sportello.

American tech-watchers, not normally interested in literary affairs, took note of the news that Pynchon's attention has been turned their way. "Pynchon's take on the post-bubble tech world could be a challenging read for the attention-deficit prone twitterati," writes CNET's Dan Farber. "Pynchon's 2006 book 'Against the Day,' for example, is more than 1,000 pages. Fans of the author acknowledge the element of patience required for consuming his work."

At the Observer's Betabeat, Kelly Faircloth was thrilled. "What weird corner of Americana has Mr. Pynchon chosen for the subject of his latest opus? Why, Silicon Alley... Our cup runneth over!" And then this: "This news means that if you’ve had any offbeat encounters with oddball middle-aged strangers at General Assembly or New York Tech Meetup in the last couple of years, you’ve officially got an excuse to spin it into a maybe-maybe-not anecdote. Just saying."

While no further information about "Bleeding Edge" -- not even a press release -- has yet been made available, speculation as to its plot has already begun.  In the Guardian, Martin Paul Eve, lecturer in English at the University of Lincoln and instigator of last May's Pynchon in Public Day, suggested that "Bleeding Edge"  will likely continue the history of the Arpanet, the Internet precursor featured in "Inherent Vice.  

"It looks like what we're seeing here is an amalgamation of Pynchon's Luddite stance, his fascination with detective fiction and the lifelong politics of his novels with the Internet, contemporary capitalism and terrorism -- all getting the treatment in one whirling setup," Eve said.

All this speculation may be in vain for now.  Pynchon's UK publisher Jonathan Cape said that the author was "still writing" "Bleeding Edge," according to the Guardian, and that a final manuscript was not yet in his editor's hands.  Fans may want to hold off on their celebratory banana blancmanges.

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