In my Postmodern American Fiction class this past semester, we were assigned to write a page reflection each week on the book that we read. I actually really enjoyed writing these reflections because they were a chance to choose a specific aspect of the book and discuss it in depth without needed to come to any precise conclusions or arguments. In fact, I liked it so much that I’ve decided to continue on the process this summer! Along with reviews I’ll be sharing these reflections, brief discussions on novels that I’ve read without any value judgment or rating on my part. Let me know what you think!
While reading The Crying of Lot 49 I was often a bit overwhelmed by the sheer number of times Thomas Pynchon plays with language. From names of people (“Mucho” Maas, Dr. Hilarius, Mike Fallopian, etc.) to the names of cities (San Narcisco), acronyms, and Trystero itself, it seems as though hardly any words have just one meaning. Considering this novel’s haphazard, rambling writing style and its blurry timeline and structure, it is not surprising that Pynchon would also want to apply this same level of complexity and depth to the language he uses. As the paranoia sets in and the characters begin to break down, the meanings of the words used seems to multiply. This plethora of meanings did not quite hit me until reading the very last line of the novel: “Oedipa settled back, to await the crying of lot 49” (Pynchon 152). All along I wondered what the title was about: was someone crying? Where was lot 49? Did it have something to do with the used car lot that Mucho worked at? Yet the answer was somehow much simpler: it refers to the auction of a book or set of stamps. In this way, playing with words is a way of instilling a sort of “linguistic paranoia” in the reader, causing them to question the meaning of language the more they read and thereby mimicking the paranoia experienced by the characters.
It has occurred to me that sometimes authors may write books that are deliberately confusing, how sometimes a confused reader is precisely the result that the writer was hoping for. I think this deliberate confusion is exactly what Thomas Pynchon was trying to achieve in The Crying of Lot 49. I have many questions that were left unanswered (or perhaps the answer is there and I just was not able to see it): What ended up happening to Pierce’s will? Why did Pierce name Oedipa in his will to the first place? What kind of relationship did Oedipa and Pierce used to have? Why did Mucho suddenly lose his sense of identity towards the end of the novel? What is Trystero exactly? What is the difference between Trystero and Tristero? I feel as though Pynchon purposefully wrote this book to be confusing and muddled; otherwise, why bother to write something that readers could not firmly grasp? What point would he be making?
Thoughts on The Crying of Lot 49? Have you ever read a book a similar sense of “linguistic paranoia”? Let me know in the comments section below!