Things did not delay in turning curious when the first beats of the drumroll began for Thomas Pynchon’s forthcoming book. Last month, lit-bloggers and news-writers reported that Penguin Press would issue the author’s sixth novel in December. This whetted the palates of those hard-core fans who have spent the years since 1997’s Mason & Dixon speculating that Pynchon was at work on a doozy about lady mathematicians of the old school and also, uhm, Mothra. Last week, Amazon.com put up a page that listed Untitled Thomas Pynchon at a svelte 992 pages and bore a description purportedly written by the master himself. In fact, it purported quite well indeed and also rather charmingly, promising an archetypal Pynchonian buffet of settings, characters, and old tricks (“Characters stop what they’re doing to sing what are for the most part stupid songs. Strange sexual practices take place. Obscure languages are spoken, not always idiomatically.”) Then the description just vanished from the page.
Was this a hoax?A jump-the-gun glitch? A hype? In any event, one Amazon customer must have gone through his Web browser’s cache and reposted the thing on the customer discussion board, touching off an instant classic of that kind of chatter where M.F.A. meets LSD. The following comments are fairly typical: “I am saying that the blurb is Pynchon parroting Pynchon … viral-marketing or, more hopefully, a Swiftian self-parody and critique of Internet subcultures (a sort of new, updated Tale of a Tub.)” Whee!
(For the record, Penguin Press’s publicity chief disavows all knowledge of the blurb, and Amazon hadn’t sorted its story out by press time. Pynchon did not immediately return an answering-machine message left at what I reasonably assume to be his Manhattan apartment.)
To be sure, when Mason & Dixon came out nine years ago, the scholars and nuts who compulsively post to the pynchon-l mailing list were on the case in cyberspace. But the new book with the rather coyly withheld title will enter an Internet Age in bloom, which is just too perfect. Labyrinthine structures, shifting identities, abstruse interconnections, funky mail systems—in its delirious maximalism, Pynchon’s work has more than a few affinities with all this fine new technology, and the technology enables Pynchon fans to interact in a wholly Pynchonian way. Ladies and germs, start your master’s theses, your conspiracy theories, and your attributions of prophecy: Here’s where hypertext meets literature.
Addendum: Troy Patterson reveals the name of the untitled Pynchon project, as well as the reason for the Amazon post, in this follow-up article.