February 28: On this day in 1973 Thomas Pynchon’s Gravity’s Rainbow appeared, causing among the critics the sort of wonderand mayhem which begins the novel, as a V-2 rocket slams into 1944 London: “Ascreaming comes across the sky. It has happened before, but there is nothing tocompare it to now . . . .” The NewYork Times described its publicationas “an event [which] breaks seven years of silence and allays the fearthat [Pynchon] might never go beyond his early success.” Reviewer RichardLocke also warned that the novel was “bonecrushingly dense, compulsivelyelaborate, silly, obscene, funny, tragic, pastoral, historical, philosophical,poetic, grindingly dull, inspired, horrific, cold, bloated, beached and blasted.”Members of the Pulitzer Prize advisory board echoed the “obscene,”added “unreadable,” and rejected their jurors’ unanimousrecommendation that Pynchon receivethat year’s award.
Gravity’s Rainbow did share the National Book Award that year, though Pynchon declinedto appear at the ceremony. The likelihood of Pynchon’s absence prompted TomGuinzburg of Viking Press to organize a joke that has become legend inpublishing and banqueting—the appearance of the stand-up comic Professor IrwinCorey (aka “The World’s Foremost Authority”), who accepted the awardon behalf of Pynchon, or perhaps someone like him:
However . . . I acceptthis financial stipulation—ah—stipend in behalf of Richard Python for the greatcontribution which to quote from some of the missiles which he has contributed. . . . Today we must all be aware that protocol takes precedence overprocedure. However you say—WHAT THE—what does this mean . . . in relation tothe tabulation whereby we must once again realize that the great fiction storyis now being rehearsed before our very eyes, in the Nixon administration . . .indicating that only an American writer can receive . . . the award forfiction, unlike Solzinitski whose fiction does not hold water. Comrades—friends,we are gathered here not only to accept in behalf of one recluse—one who hasfound that the world in itself which seems to be a time not of the toad—toquote Studs TurKAL. And many people ask “Who are Studs TurKAL?” It’snot “Who are Studs TurKAL?” it’s “Who AM Studs TurKAL?” . ..
Daybook is contributed by Steve King, who teaches in the English Department of Memorial University in St. John’s, Newfoundland. His literary daybook began as a radio series syndicated nationally in Canada. He can be found online at todayinliterature.com.