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Against the Day [Hardcover]

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Item Description...
An epic tale spanning the years between the Chicago World's Fair of 1893 and the end of World War I features a sizable cast of characters who are caught up by such events as the labor troubles of Colorado, the Mexican revolution, and the heyday of silent-movie Hollywood. 250,000 first printing.

Publishers Description
Spanning the period between the Chicago World's Fair of 1893 and the years just after World War I, this novel moves from the labor troubles in Colorado to turn-of-the-century New York, to London and Gottingen, Venice and Vienna, the Balkans, Central Asia, Siberia at the time of the mysterious Tunguska Event, Mexico during the Revolution, postwar Paris, silent-era Hollywood, and one or two places not strictly speaking on the map at all.
With a worldwide disaster looming just a few years ahead, it is a time of unrestrained corporate greed, false religiosity, moronic fecklessness, and evil intent in high places. No reference to the present day is intended or should be inferred.
The sizable cast of characters includes anarchists, balloonists, gamblers, corporate tycoons, drug enthusiasts, innocents and decadents, mathematicians, mad scientists, shamans, psychics, and stage magicians, spies, detectives, adventuresses, and hired guns. There are cameo appearances by Nikola Tesla, Bela Lugosi, and Groucho Marx.
As an era of certainty comes crashing down around their ears and an unpredictable future commences, these folks are mostly just trying to pursue their lives. Sometimes they manage to catch up; sometimes it's their lives that pursue them. Meanwhile, the author is up to his usual business. Characters stop what they're doing to sing what are for the most part stupid songs. Strange sexual practices take place. Obscure languages are spoken, not always idiomatically. Contrary-to-the-fact occurrences occur. If it is not the world, it is what the world might be with a minor adjustment or two. According to some, this is one of the main purposes of fiction.

Item Specifications...

Pages   1085
Est. Packaging Dimensions:   Length: 2" Width: 6.75" Height: 9.5"
Weight:   3.4 lbs.
Binding  Hardcover
Release Date   Nov 21, 2006
Publisher   The Penguin Press
ISBN  159420120X  
EAN  9781594201202  

Availability  0 units.

Product Categories
1Books > Bargain Books   [3580  similar products]
2Books > Subjects > Literature & Fiction > Authors, A-Z > ( P ) > Pynchon, Thomas   [8  similar products]
3Books > Subjects > Literature & Fiction > General > Contemporary   [78538  similar products]
4Books > Subjects > Literature & Fiction > General > Literary   [246863  similar products]
5Books > Subjects > Literature & Fiction > Genre Fiction > Historical   [9169  similar products]

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Reviews - What do our customers think?
Best Sentences Ever  Sep 25, 2008
I have no idea what Thomas Pynchon was trying to convey with 'Against the Day' but the descriptions of place and time are above outstanding. The sentences of 'Against the Day' are the best sentences ever. The book is hilarious frequently, nearly every page. Various underground paranoid attempts to find the linchpins of the world are described with the goal of moving the world but these attempts are shown not to amount to much. The counter culture currents of the day were more or less completely irrelevant to warding off the disaster of World War I that was fast approaching. Pynchon provides no positive lesson as far as I can tell. I see 'Against the Day' as providing a negative lesson rather than a positive lesson with the negative lesson being that the esoteric as an explanation best be foregone. The exoteric rather than the esoteric provides the only key to history that is of any use but I am saying that rather than 'Against the Day'.
literary free jazz  Sep 10, 2008
Having at long, long last reached the end of this monster--with, on my own part, quite as many diversions, side-trips, digressions and submissions to entropy as the Traverse clan and their cohorts experienced--I feel fully entitled to say at the end of the very long day (and "Day"): mmmmyehh.

Other reviewers have sufficiently rehearsed the plot, such as it is (and the whole point of the book is: "it isn't"). Open the book at random--and you may as well, for there's little to be gained from reading it sequentially--and you're almost guaranteed to find, on any given page, a startling turn of phrase, a striking metaphor, an inspired simile, or a rapturous, descriptive prose-poem. Which is to say, all these years on, Pynchon's gift for the English language is undiminished. Joyce, Nabokov and Gaddis are really his only peers in the last hundred years.

Alas, all these years on, his vices are also undiminished. I come to Against the Day having read V. the year before (and having read all Pynchon's other novels at various times prior to that) and what strikes me is that here is an artist who has completely failed to develop over the years. Everything he does well, he did equally well in 1963; everything he does poorly (plotting, characterization, pacing, editing) he still does very poorly. Indeed, the similarities between V.and AtD are so striking--both concerned with the Great Game, woo-woo metaphysics and pseudoscience, and an imminent apocalypse--that they often read as if the one were a rewrite of the other.

Is it so unreasonable to expect a little artistic development in 45 years? I, for one, don't see it. In AtD, Pynchon gives us exactly what we've come to expect...and this, to me, is not the hallmark of a great artist, it's the hallmark of a one-trick pony. It's a hell of a trick--one that kept me entertained for several years--but at this point it's time to learn a new one.

Too, except for Pynchon cultists, I defy anyone not to be bored for long stretches of this bloated opus. The Virginia Quarterly reviewer hit the nail squarely on the head when he called Pynchon a "pub bore": someone who has half-digested mountains of random facts at his disposal and is determined to blow your mind with his erudition. Think: Cliff Clavin on steroids and crystal meth. For every genuinely interesting bit of period (1893-WWI) arcana that he's unearthed there must be a dozen of interest only to historians and steampunk obsessives.

Still, just when I'd get fed up, I'd get drawn back in. Parts of the book are certainly as splendid as anything he's ever written...and if there's a lot of the twee, the tedious, and the inane to wade through in between flashes of inspiration and insight, no adventure worth its salt--as the Chums of Chance might have it--is free of its dangers and doldrums. Pynchon fans will read it as a matter of course. Pynchon newbies, however, would be well-advised to get their feet wet with V., Gravity's Rainbow, or Mason & Dixon.
pelicans for hire  Sep 3, 2008
Reading 'Against the Day' felt like a possibly well-deserved act of intellectual self-flagellation. It hurt real bad...but maybe in a constructive manner. I'm too confused to tell. Researching many of the concepts in the book, my brain...my humorously feeble brain...imploded and is now a tender wedge of unsightly flesh (roughly the size and texture of a goldfish).

Though I can now tell you what a quaternion is...I cannot tell you WHY a quaternion is. Because of The Jesus? A non-tangential supposition: "god is dead", and the vacuum of his leaving exploded Tunguska. It exploded Tunguska real good. Trees fell. Shambhala had its privacy fence knocked down. Sad for all. Wait, I should have added "Spoiler Alert!" before saying that. Anyway.

I do get sick of complaints regarding the novel's length. The phone book is not only long, but tedious...and they reprint that one constantly. I've never heard anyone say, "Christ, this phone book is loooong". This criticism: invalid. Besides, excessive page numbers provide great examples of strong technical writing. Kids today...they need examples.

In closing: do read Against the Day. Do not understand Against the Day.

Pynchon Tip #427: once the spine of Against the Day is sufficiently crinkled, leave it at a conspicuous location on your bookshelf. The ladies go crazy for this sort of thing. Throw in an obscure quaternion reference and the wooing can't be stopped. (Mix with booze as needed).

What I learned from Thomas Pynchon  Sep 2, 2008
Five Things that I learned from Thomas Pynchon.

1) There is no holy grail or philosopher's stone or ur-text of any kind; in the place of these illusory dreams of wholeness what we have is the secular epiphany or the illumination. Scientists, corporate executives, politicians, artists, the insane, and cognitive pilgrims of every kind have them. In other times shaman and prophets were able to gather the tribe together under one unifying fiction; in our time politicians attempt the same. But the tribe has grown skeptical, and has fragmented. The result is a psychic dissonance between the one and the many. Many strange fictions now proliferate where formerly there was one.

2) The American sensibility lives on. We love independence and despise institutionalized or standardized anything. Our heroes are and have always been oddballs and misfits: Ben Franklin, E.A. Poe, H.D. Thoreau, Ambrose Bierce, Groucho Marx, Bob Dylan, R. Crumb. Its not surprising then that Americans love movies, because nowhere is American independence (or at least the fantasy of independence: important qualifier there!) more on display than in the B-film. We all love a good cowboy movie (where the one is always stronger than the many), a good scifi extravaganza (where the individual, despite momentary setbacks, is always able to harness science and technology to his own ends), a good screwball comedy (where the individual is always able to knock down with laughter everything that everyone else holds sacred), and a good cold war thriller (where one good spy can foil the best laid world domination plans). Lucky for us, in the age of channel surfing, web browsing, and Thomas Pynchon novels (where all of these classic genres are appropriated for all manner of paranoid nonsense) we can enjoy these favorite things all in one sitting.

3) Politicians are the true progenitors of cornball fiction. Conservatives want to return to an originary cultural unity (but instead of wearing fig leaves they want us all to wear bowties); liberals find variety to be the spice of life (problem is too much spice tends only to lead to further fragmentation and a concomitant alienation).

4) Satire of the human condition and parody of its sense-making devices, as Jonathan Swift and Laurence Sterne knew, are timeless. Laughter might not help us make sense of things, but it helps us see the nonsense that too often passes for sense. Because satirists and parodists make fun of everything, its often hard to tell what they really believe and I think the satirists and parodists like it that way. But laughter is political because it is (usually) against hierarchies and against power (which are against the day). Laughter is the great leveler.

5) To treat all forms, from the sacred scripture to the matinee, with equal reverence/irreverence is the ultimate democratic act.

"Call 'Em Communications From Far, Far Away..."  Aug 25, 2008
If both The Bible and The Koran are suggesting of apocalypse with reference to that loaded phrase, 'against the day' - and great title, Mr Pynchon - then for me the novel itself certainly lives up to the promise.

I believe Thomas Pynchon is The Greatest Living Novelist. Fine. But I can't think of any other writer that stays with me in the way Pynchon does. Whenever I read a novel by Thomas Pynchon I become obsessed with it. If I'm not reading it, I'm thinking about it and when I finish the thing it still stays with me. And 'Against The Day' has absolutely haunted me.

The time span of the novel begins in the late ninetenth century as Europe appears to be hurtling towards an unavoidable destiny. "You have no idea what you're heading into. The world you take to be 'the' world will die, and descend into Hell, and all history after that will belong properly to the history of Hell" where "Flanders will be the mass grave of History".

This is serious stuff but The Great War is both the background idea of the novel and yet not quite of it. It's the daily lives of the characters which are the thing with 'history' felt but maybe not necessarily seen in the background. History waiting to happen. Is the Tunguska Event "the general war which Europe this summer and autumn would stand at the threshold of, collapsed into a single event?"

The plot itself is almost ludicrously simple for such a long novel - anarchist father is murdered at the whim of a magnate of big business and we'll see what happens to the children - but as you might expect there are a multitude of sub-plots including the adventures of The Chums Of Chance, a gang of adolescent boys who fly aboard their airship 'The Inconvenience' righting wrongs.

Or do they?

Most of the 9/11 suggestions in the book centre on The Chums and the ending left me with a feeling of general disquiet. This is obviously a good thing.

As I said the novel takes in the amount of sub-plots you would expect from a Thomas Pynchon novel and yes, there are the songs and yes, the puns continue apace and yes, it is long and no, you can't skim read it...

But why would you want to? When we talk about the pleasures of serious literature what we are talking about beyond the import and the cumulative effect are the incidental pleasures of reading. I can think of no other living writer who provides more of those moments than Pynchon.

Thomas Pynchon takes history and turns it into questions. The Campanile in Venice did mysteriously collapse in 1902; there is still a million dollar reward outstanding for anyone that solves the Reimann Principle; the air-burst of a comet in 1908 was the probable cause of the Tunguska Event...

As I said this is a novel that I couldn't shake off while I was reading it and even now it still continues to work its magic on me. I can't say for certain what it all adds up to but this is a good thing, surely? What I do know is the cliche that Pynchon's characters are mere cyphers for his bigger picture has once again, as in 'Mason & Dixon', been exploded; that the novel is simultaneously a summation of the past and a warning for now ("It's a peculiar game we all play. Against what looms in the twilight of the European future, it doesn't make much sense, this pretending to carry on with the day, you know, just waiting. Everyone waiting."); and that really no one else has ever written like this but the man himself.

Yeah, I thought this was a sublime read. And like I said, a warning for now...

"Illusion. When peace and plenty are once again taken for granted, at your most languorous moment of maximum surrender, the true state of affairs will be borne in upon you. Swiftly and without mercy".

A sublime read. A masterpiece.


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