AUDIE CORNISH, HOST:
We have a review now of a new novel from one of the country's most revered and most reclusive writers, Thomas Pynchon. The book nominated today for the National Book Award is called "Bleeding Edge" and it's set in New York City in the months leading up to September 11th attacks. But it's not just about that national tragedy. As is typical of Pynchon's work, "Bleeding Edge" is about a lot of things.
Author Meg Wolitzer has this review.
MEG WOLITZER: I approached this review with a little bit of dread. How do you write about Thomas Pynchon? By the way, it turns out he pronounces it Pynchon, so I will too. He's iconic, but his books are weird and difficult. And he has these diehard readers who go online to talk about him. They say things like Pynchonian and Pynchonalia. And they make a pretty persuasive case.
But the truth is, the most persuasive case about any writer can't be made by the fans. So I tried to ignore the reputation and just read the book.
"Bleeding Edge" starts in New York, in the period between the collapse of the dotcom boom and September 11th. It's about a spunky Upper West Side mom named Maxine who runs a fraud-investigating agency called Tail 'Em and Nail 'Em. She has to chase down Gabriel Ice, the CEO of a tech company called hashslingrz with a Z, while the book builds up toward the destruction of the towers. And that's the organizing principle, kind of.
Pynchon may be taking on 9/11 and the paranoia surrounding it - and he's very good with paranoia - but he's also taking on the giant maw of the Internet. Actually, reading the book kind of feels like spending a day roaming around the Internet. You might be wasting your time, but you're also getting a crash course in life from an original artist and consummate joker. It's full of nonstop references, some real, some not.
After a while, though, I was a little exhausted by all the mentions of things I never thought I'd have to think about again or made-up things that, if they existed, I would never want to think about again.
But there's greatness here too, like the descriptions of Maxine's New York. Her sons attend The Otto Kugelblitz School, where each grade level would be regarded as a different kind of mental condition and managed accordingly.
And I loved Maxine. It's somehow touching that in the middle of this often unfollowable story of corruption and conspiracies, there's this mom and her kids, walking to school.
So how do you talk about a book that itself doesn't stop talking? I think you have to decide if you want a book to be easy to understand and shapely and perfect or if you think it can be peculiar and high IQ-ish; the Pynchonians seem to feel that way and I wanted to join them. Too bad, for me at least, that there were more than a couple of stretches where it was easy to get lost or wander off or feel irritated.
The book is alternately shticky and profound. Some of the time I wanted to live in its world, other times I found it unreadable. But much of the time I was satisfied to let the prose build and build around me.
CORNISH: The book is "Bleeding Edge" by Thomas Pynchon. Our reviewer is Meg Wolitzer. Her latest book is "The Interestings."