V.

( 21 )

Overview

The wild, macabre tale of the twentieth century and of two men — one looking for something he has lost, the other with nothing much to lose — and "V.," the unknown woman of the title.

Written in 1963, V. remains a popular literary classic. "This work may well stand as one of the very best works of the century."--Atlantic Review

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V.

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Overview

The wild, macabre tale of the twentieth century and of two men — one looking for something he has lost, the other with nothing much to lose — and "V.," the unknown woman of the title.

Written in 1963, V. remains a popular literary classic. "This work may well stand as one of the very best works of the century."--Atlantic Review

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Editorial Reviews

Philadelphia Enquirer
Filled with wild humor, inventive wordplay and a darkly imaginative power.
----Philadelphia Inquirer
Atlantic Review
This work may well stand as one of the very best works of the century.
--Atlantic Review
George Plimpton
Pynchon is in his early twenties; he writes in Mexico City - a recluse. It is hard to find out anything about him. At least there is at hand a testament - the first novel V - which suggests that no matter what his circumstances, or where he's doing it, there is at work a young writer of staggering promise.-- Books of the Century; New York Times review, April 1963
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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9780060930219
  • Publisher: HarperCollins Publishers
  • Publication date: 3/28/1999
  • Series: Harper Perennial
  • Edition description: Reprint
  • Pages: 560
  • Sales rank: 192,320
  • Product dimensions: 5.31 (w) x 8.00 (h) x 1.26 (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.

Biography

Thomas Pynchon was born in 1937. His books include The Crying of Lot 49, Gravity's Rainbow, Vineland, and Mason & Dixon.

Author biography courtesy of HarperCollins.

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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

In which Benny Profane,
a schlemihl and
human yo-yo,
gets to
an apo-
cheir
V


Christmas Eve, 1955, Benny Profane, wearing black levis, suede jacket, sneakers and big cowboy hat, happened to pass through Norfolk, Virginia. Given to sentimental impulses, he thought he'd look in on the Sailor's Grave, his old tin can's tavern on East Main Street. He got there by way of the Arcade, at the East Main end of which sat an old street singer with a guitar and an empty Sterno can for donations. Out in the street a chief yeoman was trying to urinate in the gas tank of a '54 Packard Patrician and five or six seamen apprentice were standing around giving encouragement. The old man was singing, in a fine, firm baritone:

Every night is Christmas Eve on old East Main,
Sailors and their sweethearts all agree.
Neon signs of red and green
Shine upon the friendly scene,
Welcoming you in from off the sea.
Santa's bag is filled with all your dreams come true:
Nickel beers that sparkle like champagne,
Barmaids who all love to screw,
All of them reminding you
It's Christmas Eve on old East Main.



"Yay chief," yelled a seaman deuce. Profane rounded the corner. With its usual lack of warning, East Main was on him.

Since his discharge from the Navy Profane had been roadlaboring and when there wasn't work just traveling, up and down the east coast like a yo-yo; and this had been going on for maybe a year and a half. After that long of more named pavements than he'd care to count, Profane had grown a little leery of streets, especially streets likethis. They had in fact all fused into a single abstracted Street, which come the full moon he would have nightmares about. East Main, a ghetto for Drunken Sailors nobody knew what to Do With, sprang on your nerves with all the abruptness of a normal night's dream turning to nightmare. Dog into wolf, light into twilight, emptiness into waiting presence, here were your underage Marine barfing in the street, barmaid with a ship's propeller tattooed on each buttock, one potential berserk studying the best technique for jumping through a plate glass window (when to scream Geronimo? before or after the glass breaks?), a drunken deck ape crying back in the alley because last time the SP's caught him like this they put him in a strait jacket. Underfoot, now and again, came vibration in the sidewalk from an SP streetlights away, beating out a Hey Rube with his night stick; overhead, turning everybody's face green and ugly, shone mercury-vapor lamps, receding in an asymmetric V to the east where it's dark and there are no more bars.

Arriving at the Sailor's Grave, Profane found a small fight in progress between sailors and jarheads. He stood in the doorway a moment watching; then realizing he had one foot in the Grave anyway, dived out of the way of the fight and lay more or less doggo near the brass rail.

"Why can't man live in peace with his fellow man," wondered a voice behind Profane's left ear. It was Beatrice the barmaid, sweetheart of DesDiv 22, not to mention Profane's old ship, the destroyer U.S.S. Scaffold. "Benny," she cried. They became tender, meeting again after so long. Profane began to draw in the sawdust hearts, arrows through them, sea gulls carrying a banner in their beaks which read Dear Beatrice.

The Scaffold-boat's crew were absent, this tin can having got under way for the Mediterranean two evenings ago amid a storm of bitching from the crew which was heard out in the cloudy Roads (so the yarn went) like voices off a ghost ship; heard as far away as Little Creek. Accordingly, there were a few more barmaids than usual tonight, working tables all up and down East Main. For it's said (and not without reason) that no sooner does a ship like the Scaffold single up all lines than certain Navy wives are out of their civvies and into barmaid uniform, flexing their beer-carrying arms and practicing a hooker's sweet smile; even as the N.O.B. band is playing Auld Lang Syne and the destroyers are blowing stacks in black flakes all over the cuckolds-to-be standing manly at attention, taking leave with me and a tiny grin.

Beatrice brought beer. There was a piercing yelp from one of the back tables, she flinched, beer slopped over the edge of the glass.

"God," she said, "it's Ploy again." Ploy was now an engineman on the mine sweeper Impulsive and a scandal the length of East Main. He stood five feet nothing in sea boots and was always picking fights with the biggest people on the ship, knowing they would never take him seriously. Ten months ago (just before he'd transferred off the Scaffold) the Navy had decided to remove all of Ploy's teeth. Incensed, Ploy managed to punch his way through a chief corpsman and two dental officers before it was decided he was in earnest about keeping his teeth. "But think," the officers shouted, trying not to laugh, fending off his tiny fists: "root canal work, gum abscesses. . . ." "No," screamed Ploy. They finally had to hit him in the bicep with a Pentothal injection. On waking up, Ploy saw apocalypse, screamed lengthy obscenities. For two months he roamed ghastly around the Scaffold...

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Reading Group Guide

Plot Summary
It's Christmas Eve, 1955, and ex-seaman Benny Profane--"a schlemihl and human yo-yo"--is back in Norfolk, Virginia, with some old Navy buddies and Paola Maijstral, the enigmatic barmaid from Valletta, Malta. By January, he and Paola are in New York City with a group of wastrels self-styled The Whole Sick Crew; and Profane roams the streets and the sewers (hunting alligators) of a city that seems to just bounce him back in forth. In the meantime, Herbert Stencil--questing son of a dead British Foreign Office man--has been, since 1945, hunting for the utterly mysterious V., an unknown (perhaps unknowable) woman whom Stencil knows only from an entry in his late father's journals--"Florence, April, 1899 . . . There is more behind and inside V. than any of us had suspected. Not who, but what: what is she." And he knows, he has intuited, "that she'd been connected . . . with one of those grand conspiracies or foretastes of Armageddon which seemed to have captivated all diplomatic sensibilities in the years preceding the Great War. V. and a conspiracy." By January 1956, Stencil's search has brought him to New York City, where his and Benny Profane's paths inevitably cross. From that point of crossing, Thomas Pynchon's first novel takes readers on a wild and wonderful tour of the twentieth century and of contemporary America. Record-company and armaments executives (Roony Winsome and Clayton "Bloody" Chiclitz) jostle on these pages with British spies and Nazi rocket builders (Eric Bongo-Shaftsbury and Kurt Mondaugen), dentists and plastic surgeons (Dudley Eigenvalue and Shale Shoenmaker) rub metaphoric elbows with street gangs andjazz musicians (the Playboys and McClintic Sphere). And all the while, the world has either run down into meaninglessness or is run by a vast conspiracy that imposes a single absolute meaning on everyone.

Discussion Topics
1. To what extent can V. be read as "an analysis" of the decadence of the 1950s and, by extension, of the decadence of all of twentieth-century western culture?

2. In what ways is Benny Profane a "schlemihl" and a passive victim of circumstances? What are the causes and consequences of his repeated, frequently self-professed victimization? As a "human yo-yo," how is he the plaything of his culture and of history?

3. What are the nature and purpose of Herbert Stencil's quest? What does Pynchon mean when he writes that "Stencil was in time to be the century's child"? How does Stencil's search for V. reveal the decadence of European colonialism and of twentieth-century western culture?

4. Who are the various women who bear the initial "V"? What do these women represent? In addition to these women, what other persons, objects, places, and concepts are associated with the letter? How does the letter "V," as the novel's title and central symbol, effectively focus all of the primary motifs in the novel?

5. How does Pynchon illustrate the concept of entropy--the deterioration of all systems to a state of absolute inertness in which all creative energies have been dispersed? What characters and situations are most pointedly associated with entropy? What "rescues" from decay and deterioration do various characters put forward, and with what results?

6. What are the layouts and goals of the novel's various labyrinths or mazes, of either space or time? What do Profane, Stencil, and other characters discover about themselves and about history as they navigate their labyrinths?

7. What do Chiclitz, Schoenmaker, Winsome, and Eigenvalue represent? How are they related to the British Foreign Office men, Nazi officers, and other professionals who figure in Stencil's quest?

8. In what ways--and to what degree--do Profane, Stencil, and others attempt to create order out of disorder? Is any one character's approach in this regard more successful than those of the others?

9. Herbert Stencil's father says, "Suppose, sometime between 1859 and 1919, the world contracted a disease which no one ever took the trouble to diagnose because the symptoms were too subtle--blending in with the events of history, no different one by one but altogether--fatal." How would you describe that disease? How may V. be read as Pynchon's diagnosis of it?

10. Rachel thinks of the people in Dr. Schoenmaker's waiting room as only one group of "a transient population of the imperfect, the dissatisfied." In what ways do you think Rachel's perception describes all the characters in the novel?

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
( 21 )
Rating Distribution

5 Star

(11)

4 Star

(4)

3 Star

(3)

2 Star

(1)

1 Star

(2)

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See All Sort by: Showing 1 – 20 of 21 Customer Reviews
  • Posted December 9, 2010

    more from this reviewer

    I Also Recommend:

    Second time is even better

    Thomas Pynchon is one of those authors that one either loves or hates. No...scratch that. Thomas Pynchon is one of those authors who writes a book that you either love or hate. I've read five of his novels and loved three but found the other two a bit boring. V. is one of the three that I love and I think might still be his best work.

    When I was just out of high school I picked up Gravity's Rainbow and was real excited about jumping in. But after the first 50 pages I had no idea what was going on or what it was even about. So it went on the shelf.

    Years later I picked it back up and it was the same story as before. So I decided to read "The Crying of Lot 49" to give him another chance and I loved it. Not only that I started to understand his writing style and his way with words. I went back after finishing "Lot" and read "Gravity's Rainbow" with the companion guide and thought it was the greatest novel ever written. It's just fantastic once you get past the stream of conscious, postmodern style. There is no "A" to "B" to "C"...it's a long twisting road that demands your attention. It's not like a King or Patterson novel where you take it one vacation and read it while sitting on the beach. It stood as my favorite work of his until I read "V."

    "V." is a masterpiece from start to finish. The first time I read it I fully didn't understand all the twists and turns but just went along for the ride, picking up what I could and leaving the rest for a later read. Well I just finished it again after reading it two years ago and I got a heck of a lot more out of it this time around.

    The novel is one that I feel people should read before "Gravity's Rainbow". If you can get into "V." then "GR" should be a problem. I love Stencil. He might just be one of my all time favorite characters in any novel. The plot is great...the flashbacks to Egypt, Florence, German South West Africa and Malta are worth the read alone. Some characters in this novel also make appearances in "GR".

    I will be reading this again at some point in time to pick up more of what is going one. It's a quest...and a fun one at that. Give it a try and let the madness begin.

    On a side note, I still don't like "Mason & Dixon".

    2 out of 2 people found this review helpful.

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  • Posted April 28, 2009

    more from this reviewer

    I Also Recommend:

    This book is amazing, challenging at points but rewarding.

    Don't be intimidated by V., the beginning of this book is easy to read and you kind of ease into the story rather than jumping right in to such as in Gravity's Rainbow. I read 180 pages of GR, but decided to go back and read V. as well as the Crying of Lot 49 before attempting GR in its entirety. I had no idea what to expect but I was never bored while reading this book. Pynchon's detail and writing is unsurpassed by anyone else I've read. As for the complexity of the text, it is difficult to understand at times, but after some re-reading and finishing a chapter things always come together. I'm 17 and I was able to understand the story, so it shouldn't be a problem for someone of average intelligence to complete. If you feel unsure about it then start with the Crying of Lot 49, a very cool story and by far the easiest and shortest of Pynchon's novels (excluding Slow Learner). I highly recommend this book, Pynchon will change the way you look at literature.

    2 out of 2 people found this review helpful.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted January 17, 2013

    Bizare but sadly not interesting

    Sometimes a yo-yo is just a yo-yo. My advice - read the free sample then decide if you are willing to pay for more of the same.

    1 out of 1 people found this review helpful.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted August 14, 2013

    Riften

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  • Anonymous

    Posted July 10, 2013

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  • Anonymous

    Posted December 26, 2007

    don't be afraid to read this...

    just go for it. you'll have to read it twice, maybe 5, maybe 73 times. no one can expect to understand it in its entirety on the first attempt. it can be a fun and enlightening read if you let it.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted December 11, 2006

    Sophomoric first novel of American metafiction

    Having read Mason & Dixon, my expectations for V. were, perhaps, unfairly high. Clearly, V. is not Pynchon's best work of metafiction. The story rambles aimlessly, incessantly and pointlessly, at times. Of course, the futility in part is the point. However, the mystery concerning who or what is V. becomes wearisome after 400 pages of time travel punctuated by random global adventures even for a patient reader. The names of the shallow, flat characters are utterly sophomoric -- Stencil, Paola, Benny Profane, Pig, Slab -- they reminded me of the cast from a novel by Nabokov or characters of Beckett, except that Beckett always pulls them off and they're rounder, human figures about whom we actually care. The antics and low humor from the bars of Norfolk to the sewers of New York to wartime Malta seemed, sorry about this, somewhat silly and slapstick. But one has to remember that this is Pynchon's first novel and one can see the writer begin to mature as his first novel progresses. One begins to see the hint of the mature writer emerge in the chapter about V. in Love. And although the epilogue is epic, leaving one to wonder if he couldn't conclude how to conclude, the writing becomes scintillating. M&D is a masterpiece. It was enough to take me to V., which disappointed, onto Gravity's Rainbow, nevertheless, which is utterly blowing my mind. The point is that although V. seems sophomoric, Pynchon was, in fact, a sophomore when he wrote it and only a few years out of Cornell at that. Perhaps, the Iliads of V. and M&D could only have been written by a man from Ithaca. You may want to save V. for last and go straight to M&D or Gravity's Rainbow. Of course, if you happen to be a sophomore, you may find that V. is your cup of tea. Whatever you decide to do, I hope you decide to read Pynchon. He's the real thing and stands among the few living legends left in America of quite possibly Nobel stature. I could take or leave V. But M&D and Gravity's Rainbow are to die for.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted August 6, 2003

    TOO MUCH

    I purchased this book mainly out of curiosity. I was expecting a tough read, but i thought I would be well prepared for it. The book was entriguing at first, with great stories from this guy's life and his friends, but then i started to become overwhelmed with the amount of characters and trying to pick out the underlying theme of this novel. I was aware before buying it that it was a multifacted allegory, but became overwhelmed with all the information to remember around page 75 in some foreign country--and it was also uninteresting. Im sure i will finish at a later time, but im writing this to tell others it might be a better book to rent from your local library. (If you remember to renew it)

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  • Anonymous

    Posted March 1, 2001

    You have to read this one twice!

    This is a book that you have to work at reading, but the work brings great rewards. The first thing I did after I read the last page was to begin reading it again. This book is full of secrets and becomes very addictive, that is, once you make it through your first hundred pages.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted June 5, 2000

    The yo-yos are the true rulers of the earth

    'A sincerly interesting book, once one has gotten past the first part of the book. To tell any more about the book would be to ruin the entire story. The only thing that I can say is that if you enjoy the wonderful yarns of Eco, and the narrator voice in Kerouac's books...then you will surely enjoy this book...just give it time.'

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    Posted December 6, 2010

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    Posted June 30, 2010

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    Posted October 16, 2010

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    Posted October 27, 2008

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    Posted April 11, 2014

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    Posted September 10, 2013

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    Posted June 24, 2009

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    Posted September 27, 2012

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    Posted May 10, 2009

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    Posted August 10, 2009

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