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 Thomas Pynchon in 1953: The reclusive author's new novel is surprisingly tender

Thomas Pynchon's novels create a warped world ruled by paranoia and conspiracy. Pynchon rarely bothers to describe life as most of us experience it. He prefers to describe the irrationality of his own imagination, and his work violates almost everything we expect from a novel. He rejects straightforward narrative, coherent characters and clear motives for behaviour. His people are often streetwise weirdos with a streak of schizophrenia. Nothing hangs together in Pynchon's world. Everything is unexplained.

Bleeding Edge sees Pynchon plug himself into the weirdness of the internet. The novel is perhaps his most realistic work, if only because the internet is already warped by paranoia and conspiracy. There are the usual 500 or so pages of Pynchon madness: the shady secret agents and shifty fraud merchants, the bizarre coincidences and broken connections. But the big surprise of Bleeding Edge is how tender it is. The novel makes an appeal for the survival of innocence in a hostile world. Pynchon wants to find a way out of paranoia and conspiracy, even as he forces the reader deeper into them.

The novel opens in spring 2001 as Maxine Tarnow, a decertified fraud investigator, walks her two sons to school on New York's Upper West Side. The time and place announce that this is a novel which sooner or later deals with the destruction of the World Trade Center. But for now the streets are disturbed by nothing more sinister than the usual New York commotion. Pynchon establishes an almost idyllic scene. Sunlight falls on a pear tree as Maxine, in a reflex of parental protection, walks closest to the street to shield her boys from any wayward city traffic.

Pynchon's high-velocity style is in evidence immediately. He has a great ear for dialogue, and the rapid-fire banter — particularly between Maxine and her sons, Ziggy and Otis — is one of the novel's chief pleasures. When Maxine pauses in the street to appreciate the blossoming pear tree, Pynchon breaks into dialogue: 


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