The Crying of Lot 49

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The highly original satire about Oedipa Maas, a woman who finds herself enmeshed in a worldwide conspiracy, meets some extremely interesting characters, and attains a not inconsiderable amount of self knowledge.

"The comedy crackles, the puns pop, the satire explodes ..." --New York Times

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The Crying of Lot 49

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The highly original satire about Oedipa Maas, a woman who finds herself enmeshed in a worldwide conspiracy, meets some extremely interesting characters, and attains a not inconsiderable amount of self knowledge.

"The comedy crackles, the puns pop, the satire explodes ..." --New York Times

Read More Show Less

Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9780060931674
  • Publisher: HarperCollins Publishers
  • Publication date: 4/28/1999
  • Series: Harper Perennial
  • Pages: 152
  • Lexile: 1060L (what's this?)
  • Product dimensions: 5.25 (w) x 7.96 (h) x 0.35 (d)

Meet the Author

Thomas Pynchon

Thomas Pynchon was born in 1937. His books include V, Gravity's Rainbow, Vineland, Mason & Dixon, Against the Day, Inherent Vice, and Bleeding Edge.

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    1. Also Known As:
      Thomas Ruggles Pynchon Jr. (full name)
    2. Hometown:
      New York, New York
    1. Date of Birth:
      May 8, 1937
    2. Place of Birth:
      Glen Cove, Long Island, New York
    1. Education:
      B. A., Cornell University, 1958

Read an Excerpt

Chapter One

One summer afternoon Mrs Oedipa Maas came home from a Tupperware party whose hostess had put perhaps too much kirsch in the fondue to find that she, Oedipa, had been named executor, or she supposed executrix, of the estate of one Pierce Inverarity, a California real estate mogul who had once lost two million dollars in his spare time but still had assets numerous and tangled enough to make the job of sorting it all out more than honorary. Oedipa stood in the living room, stared at by the greenish dead eye of the TV tube, spoke the name of God, tried to feel as drunk as possible. But this did not work. She thought of a hotel room in Mazatlan whose door had just been slammed, it seemed forever, waking up two hundred birds down in the lobby; a sunrise over the library slope at Cornell University that nobody out on it had seen because the slope faces west; a dry, disconsolate tune from the fourth movement of the Bartok Concerto for Orchestra; a whitewashed bust of Jay Gould that Pierce kept over the bed on a shelf so narrow for it she'd always had the hovering fear it would someday topple on them. Was that how he'd died, she wondered, among dreams, crushed by the only ikon in the house? That only made her laugh, out loud and helpless: You're so sick, Oedipa, she told herself, or the room, which knew.

The letter was from the law firm of Warpe, Wistfull, Kubitschek and McMingus, of Los Angeles, and signed by somebody named Metzger. It said Pierce had died back in the spring, and they'd only just now found the will. Metzger was to act as co-executor and special counsel in the event of any involved litigation. Oedipa had been named also to execute thewill in a codicil dated a year ago. She tried to think back to whether anything unusual had happened around then. Through the rest of the afternoon, through her trip to the market in downtown Kinneret-Among-The-Pines to buy ricotta and listen to the Muzak (today she came through the bead-curtained entrance around bar 4 of the Fort Wayne Settecento Ensemble's variorum recording of the Vivaldi Kazoo Concerto, Boyd Beaver, soloist); then through the sunned gathering of her marjoram and sweet basil from the herb garden, reading of book reviews in the latest Scientific American, into the layering of a lasagna, garlicking of a bread, tearing up of romaine leaves, eventually, oven on, into the mixing of the twilight's whiskey sours against the arrival of her husband, Wendell ("Mucho") Maas from work, she wondered, wondered, shuffling back through a fat deckful of days which seemed (wouldn't she be first to admit it?) more or less identical, or all pointing the same way subtly like a conjurer's deck, any odd one readily clear to a trained eye. It took her till the middle of Huntley and Brinkley to remember that last year at three or so one morning there had come this long-distance call, from where she would never know (unless now he'd left a diary) by a voice beginning in heavy Slavic tones as second secretary at the Transylvanian Consulate, looking for an escaped bat; modulated to comic-Negro, then on into hostile Pachuco dialect, full of chingas and maricones; then a Gestapo officer asking her in shrieks did she have relatives in Germany and finally his Lamont Cranston voice, the one he'd talked in all the way down to Mazatlan. "Pierce, please," she'd managed to get in, "I thought we had --- "

"But Margo," earnestly, "I've just come from Commissioner Weston, and that old man in the fun house was murdered by the same blowgun that killed Professor Quackenbush," or something.

"For God's sake," she said. Mucho had rolled over and was looking at her.

"Why don't you hang up on him," Mucho, suggested, sensibly.

"I heard that," Pierce said. "I think it's time Wendell Maas had a little visit from The Shadow." Silence, positive and thorough, fell. So it was the last of his voices she ever heard. Lamont Cranston. That phone line could have pointed any direction, been any length. Its quiet ambiguity shifted over, in the months after the call, to what had been revived: memories of his face, body, things he'd given her, things she had now and then pretended not to've heard him say. It took him over, and to the verge of being forgotten. The shadow waited a year before visiting. But now there was Metzger's letter. Had Pierce called last year then to tell her about this codicil? Or had he decided on it later, somehow because of her annoyance and Mucho's indifference? She felt exposed, finessed, put down. She had never executed a will in her life, didn't know where to begin, didn't know how to tell the law firm in L. A. that she didn't know where to begin.

"Mucho, baby," she cried, in an access of helplessness.

Mucho Maas, home, bounded through the screen door. "Today was another defeat," he began.

"Let me tell you," she also began. But let Mucho go first.

He was a disk jockey who worked further along the Peninsula and suffered regular crises of conscience about his profession.

"I don't believe in any of it, Oed," he could usually get out. "I try, I truly can't," way down there, further down perhaps than she could reach, so that such times often brought her near panic. It might have been the sight of her so about to lose control that seemed to bring him back up.

"You're too sensitive." Yeah, there was so much else she ought to be saying also, but this was what came out. It was true, anyway. For a couple years he'd been a used car salesman and so hyperaware of what that profession had come to mean that working hours were exquisite torture to him. Mucho shaved his upper lip every morning three times with, three times against the grain to remove any remotest breath of a moustache, new blades he drew...

The Crying of Lot 49. Copyright © by Thomas Pynchon. Reprinted by permission of HarperCollins Publishers, Inc. All rights reserved. Available now wherever books are sold.
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Reading Group Guide

Plot Summary
"So began, for Oedipa, the languid, sinister blooming of The Tristero."

Returning home one fine summer afternoon from a particularly disappointing Tupperware party, Mrs. Oedipa Maas--of Kinneret-Among-The-Pines, California--opens a letter from the Los Angeles law firm of Warpe, Wistfull, Kubitschek and McMingus and discovers that she has been named executor of the estate of Pierce Inverarity, late Southern California real-estate mogul, entrepreneur, and Oedipa's former lover. Things then did not delay in turning curious. Totally in the dark about what an executor does, Oedipa leaves her disk-jockey husband Wendell ("Mucho") to cope by himself with his "regular crises of conscience about his profession," and sets off for Los Angeles and a meeting with lawyer Metzgar, her designated co-executor. Thus begins her Oedipa-in-Wonderland journey through the rococo spider's-web tangle of her late lover's leavings and her last-frontier, reality-check confrontations with the Paranoids (an anglicized rock band), Yoyodyne Corporation ("one of the giants of the aerospace industry"), an off-the-cybernetic-wall inventor (Nefastis by name) attempting to defeat the Second Law of Thermodynamics, stamp collector Genghis Cohen, and "all manner of revelations" concerning herself and the mysterious, centuries-old Tristero.

This subversive, underground mail-delivery system--with its drop boxes labeled W.A.S.T.E. ("We Await Silent Tristero's Empire") and its alienated carriers--appears to be a worldwide conspiracy of mind-boggling reach. Oedipa has never before had to deal with a worldwide conspiracy. Especially one whoseexistence and nefarious goals are hinted at in a collection of forged U.S. postage stamps, a collection that Pierce Inverarity has left to be auctioned. That collection of Tristero stamps gives Oedipa nightmares, and Pynchon's fascinating novel its title. There is also a resurrected Restoration revenge tragedy, The Courier's Tragedy, with lines long suppressed by the Vatican. Not to mention a group of anti-love dropouts called the Inamorati Anonymous. Oedipa uncovers clue after clue after clue, only to reach uncertainty. Does The Tristero exist? Do we need another postal service? Are there vast conspiracies ruling our lives? Or are we hallucinating it all? At last, Oedipa sits in the auction room, with only herself and America to rely on.

Discussion Topics
1. Oedipa's search for The Tristero takes her through several labyrinths--the search itself, several buildings, night-time San Francisco, the Los Angeles freeway system. To what extent are we aware of the layout and purpose of each labyrinth? Is Oedipa's progress through each determined by her own choices? What does she discover in each?

2. How may we interpret Oedipa's endeavors as an attempt to impose order on a chaotic universe? What potential world-ordering systems and ideologies, including Inverarity's estate, must she contend with in the course of her quest? What potential systems and ideologies would she contend with today?

3. What does Oedipa learn about The Tristero through her own observations, and what through her own and others' conjecture? What conclusions does she draw? What do you think The Tristero represents? What are the implications of the acronym, W.A.S.T.E.?

4. Why does Pynchon leave Oedipa's quest unresolved? What more might she learn at the crying of lot 49?

5. What does Pierce Inverarity--with all his voices and all his possessions (while alive)--come to represent?

6. What societal outcasts, derelicts, and renegades appear in the novel, and to what purpose? What are the conditions of their lives? Do you think Pynchon would present the same examples in the same way today?

7. How are the Nefastis Machine and what it represents related to the "two distinct kinds" of entropy--the entropy posited by the Second Law of Thermodynamics (the inevitable deterioration of any system to a state of disorder and zero energy or meaning) and that of information systems (a tendency to discard excess meanings and approach certainty and predictability)? How, in turn, are the two kinds of entropy related to Oedipa's search?

8. What conclusions can we draw from Pynchon's exploration of the various technologies in American culture--television, radio, the telephone, electronics, the automobile, and others? What impact do these technologies have on the lives of Oedipa and others?

9 Pynchon writes that "Oedipa had believed, long before leaving Kinneret, in some principle of the sea as redemption for Southern California." Does she maintain that belief? Does she find other principles or sources of belief in redemption? What religious images and concepts does Pynchon present, and to what purpose?

10. After speaking with Driblette's mother and with the neo-fascist ""Winner" Tremaine, the troubled Oedipa thinks, "This is America, you live in it, you let it happen." What are the implications of that thought?

About the Author
Born in 1937, Thomas Pynchon is the author of V., The Crying of Lot 49, Gravity's Rainbow, Vineland, and Mason & Dixon.
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Customer Reviews

Average Rating 4
( 34 )
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See All Sort by: Showing 1 – 20 of 34 Customer Reviews
  • Posted November 24, 2011

    Not for me

    I finally read this because I¿ve never yet managed to complete a Thomas Pynchon story. I managed to finish this novel only because it¿s short. I¿m left confused about many things, but not about this: I enjoy interesting and different books, but books loaded with pretentious intellectualism bore me to death.

    There¿s story-telling (which entertains and moves its readers) and there¿s word play. ¿The Crying of Lot 49¿ clearly falls in the last category and, while it might provide many readers with a satisfying read, I find the weirdness too weird, the ¿cleverness¿ too clever for its own good and the deliberate manipulation of names, references and language constructs silly. Is Pynchon actually laughing at us, the readers, who swoon at his ¿brilliance¿? Either that or, like Sacha Baron Cohen of the dreadful movie ¿Borat¿ fame, Pynchon is a sad man with a rather warped and gloomy view of the world.

    As a reader, I want more to a novel than pretentious intellectualism posing as literature. I enjoy reading a wide variety of genres and styles, fiction and non-fiction. I don¿t care what I read ¿ as long as it¿s good writing and keeps me engaged.

    Despite the occasional glimpse of what could attract people to this story (for example, Mucho & Oedipa¿s obsessions apparently suggesting ordinary folks¿ obsessive need to believe in some kind of reality and order ¿ I say ¿apparently,¿ because I¿m not entirely sure I ¿got it¿), Pynchon¿s writing required too much effort to make any sort of sense to me.

    Perhaps that was the point of the difficult, delirious writing style: that, despite modern technology supposedly assisting mankind in communicating, Mucho & Oedipa (representing the average human) were still unable to communicate with each other. This novel, far from solving this dilemma, exacerbated it!

    It does have its moments of post-modernist epiphany (modern life is uncertain; there is no guarantee of a happy ending), but I¿m a reader who prefers a more traditional (and optimistic!) form of story-telling and will leave Pynchon¿s existential explorations of an entropic society to those readers who prefer ¿high literature.¿

    7 out of 8 people found this review helpful.

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  • Posted May 15, 2011

    A Witty and Refreshing Must-Read

    The Crying of Lot 49 by Thomas Pynchon is a mystery that is equally as witty as it is intriguing. Set in the chaotic cultural collision that was the 1960's, the novel's protagonist, Oedipa Maas, is strung through a plot bursting with conspiracy, paranoia, and insanity. Pynchon's clever puns and use of satire are whimsical and refreshing, and add an air of lightness to the text with the humor they bring. The Crying of Lot 49 is a short novel that openly breaks from the conventions of the typical detective story, and instead provides the reader with the aftermath of a society in crisis. The plot opens with the female protagonist, Oedipa Maas, seemingly trapped in the excruciating monotony of a life reduced to gardening and fixing evening cocktails for her depressive husband. The only momentary interruptions in the tedium that is her life are provided by phone calls from her psychiatrist, Dr. Hilarious, pressuring her to experimentally ingest LSD, and her industrial tycoon ex-boyfriend Pierce Inverarity, who's late night prank calls include a variety of racially inappropriate impressions. One evening, after returning home from a party, Oedipa finds a letter which informs her that she has been made executor of her ex-boyfriend, Pierce Inverary's will. After accepting the request, Oedipa leaves her husband and sedative lifestyle to execute the will. Upon leaving, Oedipa finds herself on the road to a personal revelation she is unable to fully perceive, as well as a mystery she is equally as immune to deciphering. The ambiguous symbol of a muted horn follows Oedipa throughout her journey, prompting her to investigate the source and meaning of its whereabouts. Throughout her inquiry to understand the purpose of the symbol, Oedipa discovers potential secret-organizations, conspiracies, or possibly just her own insanity's bizarre manifestations. Throughout the course of the novel, Oedipa journeys from southern to northern California, through a seemingly endless maize of equally as trivial connections to the symbol. Oedipa is left wondering whether her quest is to exposing an elaborate secret society, a joking conspiracy left plotted by her ex-boyfriend Inverarity to plague her, or if she is out of touch with reality. Pynchon fills the text with satirical portrayals of the 60's culture, including a teenage hippie group called "The Paranoids", LSD driven insanity, and anti-government associations, all of which propel Oedipa further into her roundabout investigation of the symbol. As cleverly intended by Pynchon, the reader, as well as Oedipa, is hopelessly left to sift through the unraveled evidence trying to distinguish any reality from all the chaos. The Crying of Lot 49 is a must for the bookshelves of any modern reader.

    5 out of 5 people found this review helpful.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted May 8, 2001

    I'll never look at stamps in the same way again

    This is by far Pynchon's most easily enjoyable novel, but you still get the Pynchon trademark complexity and innuendo. Honestly, I give it 4 and 1/2 stars. The first chapter by itself is worth the price of admission, as it is one of the funniest things I have read in quite some time. The most impressive thing about the book, however, is the way that Mr. Pynchon has turned the traditional detective story into the ultimate microcosm in a completely unprecedented and unique way, without the over-indulgence of, say, Gravity's Rainbow. While it could be a better or lesser novel than G.R., it's about as dense a novel as any other authors attempt (especially in the era of Grisham, Koontz, et. al.) and that means that you are going to spend more time pondering the novel than reading it. It's worth the effort though, because the themes Pynchon explores are ever-present and while they aren't necessarily new, they are expressed in a truly goundbreaking manner.

    2 out of 2 people found this review helpful.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted December 11, 2004

    One of my all time favorites

    I discovered this book as a teenager, and I am now 55 and still rereading it. The book speaks to the mythology underlying history, and questions history itself in a mysterious, atmospheric manner. It has the trademark Pynchon sendup humor at its finest. I've wondered why he has never written another quite like this (V. being a somewhat less crisp version of the same kind of quest) but I suspect any first-rate author is blessed to get one like this in a lifetime. Fitzgerald's The Great Gatsby compares for length (make that brevity and conciseness) and other qualities.

    1 out of 1 people found this review helpful.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted July 27, 2001

    Great short work by usually Epic writer.

    This is Pynchon's shortest novel, We're usually used to his complex and huge books---This is one of his most delicate works--but There's much hidden here. Considered his best book by most fans if you want to get started into him. It changed my life!

    1 out of 2 people found this review helpful.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted July 23, 2001

    Almost there...

    I have read the book twice (maybe three times), and each time I read it I like it more - mostly because it is starting to make sense. If Oedipa Maas thinks she is confused about this conspiracy, try reading about it - especially the final section in which Pynchon gives historical information. There are times though when the writing is powerful, lyrical, and comical - all at the same time. Mayvbe, when I read the novel again I will like it even more.

    1 out of 1 people found this review helpful.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted June 6, 2001

    So confusing, YOU might end up crying...

    Though spectacularly dificult to follow 90% of the time, and just as confusing as an older person talking about life before the internet the other 10%, this was quite a creative read. Complicated language, multi-layered languid prose and a mystery make for an interesting compilation. After reading, I think that anyone can associate themself with Oedipa, the heroine. This fact is the mark of any good novel: the audience's ability to relate and empathize with the protagonist. I definitely recommend reading 2+ times, however, as to read it only once would be to view a Picasso with a quick furtive glance.

    1 out of 1 people found this review helpful.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted August 26, 2000


    Though this is a novella in length, I felt as though I had read an entire novel's worth when I was finished. Pynchon has stuffed layer after layer of hidden symbols, beautiful language, and creative motifs and themes throughout this book w/ out making it seem overdone. He picked his words carefully and the end result is brillance. It is a quick read and worth your while.

    1 out of 2 people found this review helpful.

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  • Posted June 11, 2014

    The Crying of Lot 49 written by Thomas Pynchon was first publish

    The Crying of Lot 49 written by Thomas Pynchon was first published in 1966. It is an excellent mystery novel that not only makes you think, but also makes you want to keep reading. One major reason it keeps you on your toes is that once one problem is resolved, another one follows. For example, when the main character Oedipa has an affair when visitng San Narcisco she feels very guilty at first. She soon forgives herself, however, the problem of who killed her ex-boyfriend comes about. The author's style and word use also makes this a very interesting novel. Thomas Pynchon uses a lot of figurative language and really keeps the reader into the book. All in all, The Crying of Lot 49 is an excellent novel that never fails to keep the reader on their toes because of the writer's excellent use of suspense as well as the buildup of problems in the book.

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  • Posted November 26, 2013

    Difficult read, but worth the effort

    Loaded with obscure social references, ambiguity, confusion, and a mix of lies and truth, this is a challenging read. But it sticks with for a while, as some of what you have read slowly starts to sink in. Very tough to read and figure out right away, but worth the effort.

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  • Posted August 18, 2009

    more from this reviewer

    A great introduction to Pynchon.

    Outside of Slow Learner, The Crying of Lot 49 is a great way to step into the world of Thomas Pynchon. It's by far his shortest novel and MUCH easier to understand than V. (which is an awesome book but alost too much for a first time Pynchon reader to keep up with.) The Crying of Lot 49 has a cool story and plot that really kept me reading.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted June 10, 2009

    Could not get into this book

    I kept reading this hoping it would get better. After I got to about the 3rd chapter, I just couldn't remember what I read and completely lost interest. My mind wandered to other things as I was reading. It's poorly written, and I was not able to understand more than half of what was going on at any given time.

    0 out of 2 people found this review helpful.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted October 2, 2007

    A Must Read for any Teen

    There is only one thing that keeps me engaged in a book and that is if I'm able to connect with the book. All of the illusions kept me laughing and constantly kept me thinking while reading the book. Although I have never been in the middle of a great conspiracy, I was able to relate to Oedipa's quest. It seems as though she was changed in away she never imagined possible. I would definitely recommend this book to a teenager because adolescence is a time of searching and this book is able to aid in that process with the right touch of comedy to keep the reader yearning for more.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted July 20, 2000

    Extremely good

    Read it. It rocks.

    0 out of 1 people found this review helpful.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted February 23, 2000

    A wonderfully confusing book!

    A young elementary school teacher told me about this book a few years ago, and I read it with great pleasure. Pynchon's story is at times cluttered and confusing, but the way it comes together in the end (much like Vonnegut's 'Cat's Cradle') makes it worthwile. Oed has a sexual journalist feel to her character and her inquisitiveness fuels this books creative drive...great book all over!

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    Posted November 14, 2009

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    Posted September 22, 2009

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    Posted February 17, 2015

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    Posted October 26, 2008

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    Posted October 16, 2012

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