Call it irony. Or kismet. Or a portent or an augury that the reclusive author whose most famous written passage ‘a scream came from across the sky’ should write a 9/11 novel. Those famous words opened Gravity’s Rainbow but could easily describe Thomas Pynchon’s introduction to the literary community: readers and critics alike stopped, mouths agape, to take note, beginning with Gravity’s Rainbow and continuing with each subsequent novel. His technical, complicated books are both taught as postmodern canon and enjoyed as a cult diversion. He peppers his novels with paranoia and conspiracy; there’s a raving fully-baked aging hippie beneath the solipsistic prose veneer.
But anyone who thinks Thomas Pynchon comes across as being tonally at odds with his subject (ahem, Jonathan Lethem, ahem) won’t have too many scruples with Pynchon’s National Book Award contender, Bleeding Edge. Though the plot takes place during the year leading to September 2011, the tone adheres closer to our present post-Patriot Act political state rather than the syrupy sentimentality of Safran Foer’s Extremely Loud and Incredibly Close. The plot is a tech-y whodunit. Private Detective Maxine Turnow catches the nefarious whiff of a dodgy tech start up hashslingerz and falls down the rabbit hole of hackers, computer programmers, fund funneling, money laundering, G-men in black trench coats, Second Life program models, corrupt dot.com moguls, Deep Web, the Montauk project, and shoulder mounted missile launchers, along with a laundry list of half baked conspiracy theories.
While Pynchon deals with 9/11 with aplomb--equally conscientious of the shadow that enveloped New Yorkers day to day as well as the larger picture, the ushering in of a CCTV, War is Peace era--he takes truthers and other conspiracy theorists to task. Pynchon is well acquainted with conspiracy, Turnow quips ‘paranoia’s the garlic of life’s kitchen…you can never have too much’. And while Pynchon populates this novel to the brim with shadowy forces, he is more concerned with our need to create an inside-man scapegoat. ‘Somewhere, down at some shameful dark recess of the national soul, we need to feel betrayed, even guilty. As if it was us who created Bush and his gang, Cheney and Rove and Rumsfeld and Feith.’ That our reaction to 9/11 was the real tragedy. While Pynchon may find the truthers absurd, Bleeding Edge seeks to reveal the more sinister shadowy, relentless, and corrosive forces obstructing our view of Reality.