Book Review: Bleeding Edge by Thomas Pynchon

Shouldn't a book with hackers be more exciting?
Shouldn’t a book with hackers be more exciting?

Thomas Pynchon and I have an odd relationship. I’ve read most of his books over the years. To this day, I can’t admit to liking any of them. Yet, when Pynchon releases a new volume of words, I inevitable go out and buy it and place it on the top of my reading queue.

As I finished Bleeding Edge, I started to wonder why I do this. I’m not being entertained in a conventional sense. There is something deeper going on that Pynchon is providing. I suspect that his work appeals to me intellectually as a writer and editor. Of all the authors I’ve read, he tops the list in his ability to create realistic settings that are just off-centered enough to keep the reader askew. His word play is astoundingly good. I often harp about creating a narrative rhythm in the workshops I teach, and Pynchon is the master of this form of prose.

Where Pynchon typically fails for me is that his plots are (intentionally, I suspect) too loose. Think of plot as a tightly wound ball of thread. Pynchon’s plots is that same thread, except unwound, crumpled into a messy ball, and placed back down on the table. It’s usually all there, but the pieces are floating around and it is up to the reader on how those pieces are put together.

Enough about Pynchon theory. So how was Bleeding Edge?

Eh, not bad.

The synopsis of the book sounds great. An independent fraud investigator gets a tip that a dot com company ran by a villainous CEO is embezzling money. She sets about investigating and runs into the CIA, hackers, virtual reality, and plenty of conspiracy theories. The setting is that odd period of time right after the dot com bust and just before and after 9-11.

As they say, that plot sounds crackerjack!

The book, not particularly large at around 450 pages, suffers from too many zany characters. I had trouble keeping track of all of them. The murder of the protagonist’s friend is the primary motivation for her to keep investigating despite the danger to herself, yet we’re only given a cursory nod at their relationship. She seemed no closer to the murder victim than anyone else in the book.

The plot meanders around like a paper boat in a mud puddle. Mostly we’re given extended scenes of the protagonist eating with other characters while they discuss what is happening. Here she is eating at a diner. Here she is having pizza with her family. Here she is at a coffee shop having a snack. The characters in their quirky cryptic manner tell us all we need to know. Even when the prose is of Pynchon quality, it still makes for a less than exciting read.

Granted, there are some great moments. The book opens strongly as we’re deftly introduced to Maxine, our protagonist. There is a great ‘1999’ party filled with snappy dialog and bizarre people. Maxine takes a road trip and goes exploring the spooky subterranean areas of the CEO’s new house. Pynchon also does a nice job epitomizing the fear a mother might have had immediately after 9-11.

If you like Pynchon, you’re going to read Bleeding Edge whether or not I give it a good review. The rest of you who might be considering this one as an entry point into Pynchon, give it a pass. I think you’ll do better with Inherent Vice or The Crying of Lot 49.

7 responses to “Book Review: Bleeding Edge by Thomas Pynchon”

  1. First Night Design Avatar

    I don’t think I’ll be picking up a Pynchon any time soon. I’ve lived without him so far!

    1. Jason Sizemore Avatar

      Oops, I didn’t mean to scare you away from him. I think every smart reader should at the very *least* read Gravity’s Rainbow. Writers should read all the Pynchon cuz the guy is a master of prose.

      1. First Night Design Avatar

        You didn’t scare me away! I’ve never yet read a review that’s made me want to read him. I’ll let you know if I change my mind!

  2. ryandejonghe Avatar

    Thanks for the heads up. I saw this floating around last year and gave it a pass; I may take your advice and start with the other books by him.

    1. Jason Sizemore Avatar

      Inherent Vice is, in my opinion, his most conventional book. It’s quite entertaining and gives you a good taste of Pynchon.

  3. strangewriter Avatar

    I love your description of his loose plots – paper boats in muddy puddles, tangled pieces of string… you paint the picture quite well.

    I’ve not read Pynchon before but you have me intrigued – especially when you mentioned the 1999 party filled with ‘bizarre characters’. I’ll keep an eye out for his titles now, because I have to read at least one after that review. Cheers!

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