Surveillance, by Jonathan Raban
Clueless in Seattle as the age of paranoia dawns
By Pat Kane
Published: 27 October 2006
In an era where we can access any current affair from
a thousand different viewpoints - the blog comment,
backed up by the YouTube clip, discovered in the
e-mail newsletter that makes it to SkyNews - one feels
like cheering wildly for an old-fashioned "social
novel" like Surveillance. To sit with an artful,
humane narrator like Jonathan Raban, and share his
concerned gaze at an America gone nearly mad with
paranoia, is time well spent. This is the second in
his trilogy of Seattle novels, the first being the
dot-boom threnody Waxwings. By now it's clear how
Raban wants to filter the maelstrom of this United
States of Insecurity.
... Remember all those paranoid postmodern conspiracy
fictions: Pynchon, Ballard, DeLillo? Now, all it takes
is a classical realist in Seattle to walk the streets,
watch the news, listen to the conversations, and you
get the same effect. Surveillance is as useful and
eloquent a meditation on the extremism of the present
as you would wish to curl up with on a long weekend.
Saturday, October 28, 2006
Friday, October 27, 2006
The Dragon and the Eagle: The Presence of China in the American Enlightenment
by A. Owen Aldridge. Wayne State University Press. Detroit, Michigan. 1993.
Thursday, October 26, 2006
...sez today's San Francisco Comical, in an article about three SF Bay Area novelists who received the Whiting Writer's Award:
Nina Marie Martinez was born in San Jose, the daughter of a first-generation Mexican American prune-picker-turned-building contractor and a German American stay-at-home mother. A high school dropout, she was a single mom at 20, supporting herself and her daughter by reselling flea-market finds. Soon, she was a vintage-clothing maven and decided to go back to school to study business.
"All I knew was that I needed money, and if you needed money, you studied business," she says. But taking general education classes reminded her of one of her first loves, literature. (The other was the Giants.)
So she went to UC Santa Cruz to study literature. That's when she started hearing voices.
"They weren't trying to make me do bad things or anything," she says, laughing. "These women were having a conversation in my head, and I started writing it down." That conversation was the spark for her debut novel, "Caramba!: A Tale Told in Turns of the Cards," published in 2004 by Knopf.
"When I wrote 'Caramba!' I felt like I was writing the great American novel," she says. "Not too long ago, this was Mexico. My ancestors roamed these lands for hundreds of centuries."
The book takes traditional Mexican Loteria cards as pivot points -- and illustrations -- for the assemblage of a high-energy plot. Publishers Weekly described the novel as "an effervescent, luminous debut."
She cites Thomas Pynchon and Vladimir Nabokov as two of her literary influences, particularly while writing "Caramba!" "The funny thing is, my favorite writers are white males and most of them are dead," she says, noting that Latina authors are too often stereotyped. "They think we're all sitting in the corner reading 'One Hundred Years of Solitude.' "
Martinez lives near the Santa Cruz boardwalk with her 16-year-old daughter and two Chihuahuas and says she will never forget the professor who said that the most interesting fiction is written by people who speak more than one language.
"My girlfriends and I have always switched back and forth from Spanish to English," Martinez says. "When these two languages intermingle, they're both changed. Language is pliant. It can move and shift without breaking."
Her next novel, coming out in 2008 from Knopf, is the story of a girl who survives a difficult childhood and becomes the queen of the flea market. "When you write a book, there are books that you hold close to your heart," she says. Just now, she is reading "Tropic of Cancer" by Henry Miller and "Down and Out in Paris and London" by George Orwell."What does it mean to be down and out, but living artistically?" she asks. "My new book is dedicated to the discarded, people who've been thrown away. I am drawn to things and people whose peculiarness or beauty goes unappreciated by the vast majority of society."
Caramba!: A Tale Told in Turns of the Cards
Tuesday, October 24, 2006
Pynchon’s ‘Against the Day’ Glows
Penguin Press will release Thomas Pynchon’s Against the Day, his first novel since Mason & Dixon, early next month. Below is PW’s review which calls the work “knotty, paunchy, nutty, raunchy.”
Against the Day
Thomas Pynchon. Penguin Press, $35 (1,120p) ISBN 978-1-59420-120-2
"....that rushing you hear is the sound of the world, every banana peel and dynamite stick of it, trying to crowd its way in, and succeeding."
Knotty, paunchy, nutty, raunchy, Pynchon’s first novel since Mason & Dixon (1997) reads like half a dozen books duking it out for his, and the reader’s, attention. Most of them shine with a surreal incandescence, but even Pynchon fans may find their fealty tested now and again. Yet just when his recurring themes threaten to become tics, this perennial Nobel bridesmaid engineers another never-before-seen phrase, or effect, and all but the most churlish resistance collapses.
It all begins in 1893, with an intrepid crew of young balloonists whose storybook adventures will bookend, interrupt and sometimes even be read by, scores of at least somewhat more realistic characters over the next 30 years. Chief among these figures are Colorado anarchist Webb Traverse and his children: Kit, a Yale- and Göttingen-educated mathematician; Frank, an engineer who joins the Mexican revolution; Reef, a cardsharp turned outlaw bomber who lands in a perversely tender ménage à trois; and daughter Lake, another Pynchon heroine with a weakness for the absolute wrong man.
Psychological truth keeps pace with phantasmagorical invention throughout. In a Belgian interlude recalling Pynchon’s incomparable Gravity’s Rainbow, a refugee from the future conjures a horrific vision of the trench warfare to come: “League on league of filth, corpses by the uncounted thousands.” This, scant pages after Kit nearly drowns in mayonnaise at the Regional Mayonnaise Works in West Flanders. Behind it all, linking these tonally divergent subplots and the book’s cavalcade of characters, is a shared premonition of the blood-drenched doomsday just about to break above their heads.
Ever sympathetic to the weak over the strong, the comradely over the combine (and ever wary of false dichotomies), Pynchon’s own aesthetic sometimes works against him. Despite himself, he’ll reach for the portentous dream sequence, the exquisitely stage-managed weather, some perhaps not entirely digested historical research, the “invisible,” the “unmappable”—when just as often it’s the overlooked detail, the “scrawl of scarlet creeper on a bone-white wall,” a bed partner’s “full rangy nakedness and glow” that leaves a reader gutshot with wonder.
Now pushing 70, Pynchon remains the archpoet of death from above, comedy from below and sex from all sides. His new book will be bought and unread by the easily discouraged, read and reread by the cult of the difficult. True, beneath the book’s jacket lurks the clamor of several novels clawing to get out. But that rushing you hear is the sound of the world, every banana peel and dynamite stick of it, trying to crowd its way in, and succeeding. (Nov.)
This article originally appeared in the October 24, 2006 issue of PW Daily.
support the far larger audience of Against the Day readers as they read the book in the coming months and years. I'll have a chance to find out more about the
project later this week, I expect.
We didn't get a personalized proof of Thomas Pynchon's Against the Day (as others did), but yesterday -- a month before the 21 November on-sale date -- a beautiful hardcover finished copy was delivered:rage.
Not quite the drop-everything event for us that it is for some others, but certainly something we look forward to spending much of the next month with.
It weighs in at 1085 pages, and around 410,000 words. The opening scene is aboard: "the hydrogen skyship Inconvenience, its gondola draped with patriotic bunting", as some members of the Chums of Chance are on their way to Chicago .....
It's divided into five sections:
The epigraph is from Thelonious Monk.
- The Light Over the Ranges
- Iceland Spar
- Against the Day
- Rue du Départ
And the first impression is that the Pynchon book it most resembles is, indeed, Gravity's Rainbow. But that's just a very quick first impression: this is definitely a text it's going to take a while to deal with.
Pre-order your copy at Amazon.com or Amazon.co.uk (the Penguin Press publicity page is -- so far -- useless).
In Time Jeffrey Ressner wondered about the difficulties of Promoting Pynchon; it certainly looks like there will be extensive and intensive Internet cove
Monday, October 23, 2006
Amazing how some folks on Pynchon-l keep complaining about the lack of a traditional marketing campaign, I guess they just can't see what's happening. No substitute for word-of-mouth, which is what the publisher has generated in spades with Pynchon's Book Description, with ARCs in reviewer hands now the buzz is getting bigger. Pre-publication orders at Amazon.com. Articles now appearing in top-tier pubs like the New York Times, and a place reserved on the bestseller list as soon as it's published. I don't know what more a publishing executive or author could expect from a marketing campaign that eschews the usual canned promotional crap, respecting readers enough to let them pass along word of a killer new book on the way, instead of clubbing them with paid advertising and promotional stunts (any defenestration plans out there?).
I was told today to expect a call from an Associated Press reporter who's looking for pynchonoids to interview for a feature - I'm not holding my breath, but if it's true, this is a "viral" campaign that appears to be taking hold in a serious way. Add in the various fan-built sites that are bound to emerge in the next few weeks, it's a viral (hate that metaphor, but it's what they say) campaign with legs, too.