Not for everybody, perhaps, but those who climb aboard Pynchon's airship will have the ride of their lives. History lesson, mystical quest, utopian dream, experimental metafiction, Marxist melodrama, Marxian comedy -- Against the Day is all of these things and more.
The Washington Post
With Against the Day, Pynchon proves himself the heir to [H.G. Wells and Joseph Conrad], and a matchless fantasist of the real. The only prescription for salvation he offers is the same one a sheriff’s wife gives to the dynamiter’s troubled daughter midway through the novel: flight from reality. “Let go,” the sheriff’s wife explains. “Let it bear you up and carry you, and everything’s so clear because you’re not fighting back anymore, the clouds of anger are out of your face, you see further and clearer than you ever thought you could.”
The New York Times
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 Gottingen-educated mathematician; Frank, an engineer who joins the Mexican revolution; Reef, a cardsharp turned outlaw bomber who lands in a perversely tender m nage 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.) Copyright 2006 Reed Business Information.
Descending in balloons on the 1893 Chicago World's Fair, the do-gooding young Chums of Chance (part of a worldwide brigade) get help from White City Investigations' Lew Basnight. Lew is soon off battling anarchists in the American West, where bad guys Deuce and Sloat do in Webb Traverse, whose daughter marries Deuce and whose son is escaping this accursedness at Yale. Meanwhile, the Chums float through the center of the earth to the Arctic, where they are alarmed to discover a scion of the robber Barron-ish Vibe family excavating a dangerous artifact. And that's just a minuscule part of the action in this grand Wellsian fantasia from the author of Gravity's Rainbow, whose skewed look at history is a powerful act of imagination, bending the rules (with quartz translucence figuring in somehow) to reveal "worlds which are set to the side." Written in packed, densely detailed prose too dryly smart and ironic to be called Baroque, the narrative has its longueurs, and different readers will likely take to different story lines (this reader was partial to the balloonists). But pick up another book for a break, and it will seem relentlessly ordinary. Brilliant if sometimes exasperating, Pynchon's latest is highly recommended for any library that takes its fiction seriously, with the warning that it does not yield easy pleasures and should not be read on deadline. [See Prepub Alert, LJ 8/06.]-Barbara Hoffert, Library Journal Copyright 2006 Reed Business Information.
"[Pynchon's] funniest and arguably his most accessible novel."
-The New York Times Book Review
"Those who climb aboard Pynchon's airship will have the ride of their lives. History lesson, mystical quest, utopian dream, experimental metafiction, Marxist melodrama, Marxian comedy- Against the Day is all of these things and more."
-The Washington Post Book World
"Raunchy, funny, digressive, brilliant."
"Rich and sweeping, wild and thrilling."
-The Boston Globe
"Audacious, bodacious, entropic, synoptic, electric, eclectic, entertaining, hyperbraining, high- roller, tripolar."
-The Philadelphia Inquirer