18 April 2012

Book Review - The Crying of Lot 49

Tax season is finally over. Time to get back to a more regular blogging schedule. Not only my blogging has been neglected in recent weeks, but my reading time as well. I have finished The Crying of Lot 49, by Thomas Pynchon. I've written up this short review, which was mildly difficult. It is a bizarre story and I wanted to be sure not to put any real spoilers in it. So here's what I came up with.

(image from Amazon.com)
Oedipa Maas is made executor of an ex-boyfriend's estate. She uncovers the secret history of a mysterious group called W.A.S.T.E. and the Trystero family which operates an underground postal service for those who don't want to use the government postal monopoly.

During her journey Oedipa encounters a large number of eccentric and strangely named characters. She begins to piece together the secret history of the group and its attempts to overcome the postal monopoly of Thurn und Taxis in 16th & 17th century central Europe. Things begin to get more bizarre and then people start to die or change. Her psychiatrist goes insane, her husband's personality alters, and many people who might know something about Trystero die or stop talking with her.

Towards the end of the story Oedipa can't even be sure that this whole scenario isn't an elaborate prank by her dead ex-boyfriend. He had vast amounts of money and resources and might have set up the whole situation to torture her. As the estate assets begin to be disposed over a group of W.A.S.T.E. stamps are to be auctioned off as lot 49 and a bidder who Oedipa believes is a member of Trystero will be in attendance to make sure the stamps don't fall into the wrong hands. She will finally have a chance to confront one of the higher ups in the secret organization. She just has to wait for the crying of lot 49.

While bizarre the story was very interesting. Interesting and obscure bits of real history tied together with fictional connections and events. A strange stage play described in detail which gives Oedipa some of her clues. I even got a number of the more obscure references; I'm going to have to read it again at some point to try to find the stuff I missed. Truly a product of the 1960s.

Nothing really bad about this book. It can be confusing at times but since the main character is confused it helps the reader identify with her more, if that makes any sense. The ending is similar to endings in some stories I've written for a writing group I belong to, it's a type of ending that might annoy some people.

There are a lot of good quotes that could be pulled out of this book. There is a scene later in the book where Oedipa thinks she is going crazy over this whole conspiracy. She visits here shrink, Dr. Hilarius.... just as he has gone insane himself. She tells him that she was hoping he would talk her out of her fantasy and he responds:
"Cherish it! What else do any of you have? Hold it tightly by its little tentacle, don't let the Freudians coax it away or the pharmacists poison it out of you. Whatever it is, hold it dear, for when you lose it you go over that much more to the others. You begin to cease to be." (page 103)

I loved this book.

PUBLISHER: Bantam Book
AUTHOR: Thomas Pynchon
GENRE: bizarre, mystery
ISBN: 553-05764-095
2012 CHALLENGES: 150+ Reading Challenge 2012, A-Z Challenge

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