four-stars
Bookmarks Issue: 
26-Jan-Feb-2007
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0

A-Against the DayAt the 1893 Chicago World’s Fair, at the dawn of the Second Industrial Revolution, a group of balloonists aptly named "Chums of Chance" fulfill their role as heroes—and spies. In addition, over 30 years, as the world careens toward World War I, multiple stories unfold. Three brothers—a Yale-educated mathematician, an engineer, and a cardsharp—attempt to avenge the murder of their father, anarchist engineer Webb Traverse. Other stories involve a photographer and his redheaded daughter and an evil gangster vying for control of the Earth’s electromagnetic field. From Vienna and Mexico to Central Asia, from politics to technical advances, art, corporate greed, sex, mathematics, and repression, Against the Day explores a world evolving as doomsday approaches.
Penguin. 1085 pages. $35. ISBN: 159420120X

Boston Globe 5 of 5 Stars
"It’s as much genre-bending as mind-bending, with elements of epic (of course), sci-fi, Western, historical novel, paranoid thriller, comedy, adventure story, young adult novel (that skyship), picaresque novel, political novel, and musical comedy. … If [another Pynchon novel] comes, let it be as rich and sweeping, wild and thrilling, as this one." Mark Feeney

Los Angeles Times 4.5 of 5 Stars
"A book this long that amazes even 50% of the time is amazing, and I suspect Pynchon would be the first to suggest we skip the boring parts. Whatever the problems with sheer mechanical execution, Pynchon here offers his most successful and cogent articulation of the concerns that have haunted his work from the start." Christopher Sorrentino

Seattle Times 4 of 5 Stars
"Who else would think to stuff a book this serious with such touches as a talking lightning bolt and a dog who reads in French? … Remarkably, and with a whiff of optimism that is new for Pynchon, Against the Day proceeds as if the verdict is still out on which way our ability to light up the skies and obscure the heavens might go."John Freeman

Washington Post 4 of 5 Stars
"The novel is spooked by the occult, enchanted with fairy tales and myth. And the writing is orchestral, in registers ranging from magniloquent set-pieces to sass and puns." Steven Moore

Newsday 3.5 of 5 Stars
"It is brilliant. It is oblique, and in some ways obtuse. … It certainly helps to keep E. T. Bell’s classic Men of Mathematics close at hand, in case references to William Hamilton’s quaternions or Georg Riemann’s zeta function do not produce an immediate glimmer of recognition." Scott McLemee

New York Times 1 of 5 Stars
"[It] reads like the sort of imitation of a Thomas Pynchon novel that a dogged but ungainly fan of this author’s might have written on quaaludes. … There are some dazzling set pieces evoking the 1893 Chicago World’s Fair and a convocation of airship aficionados, but these passages are sandwiched between reams and reams of pointless, self-indulgent vamping." Michiko Kakutani

Critical Summary

The Seattle Times sums up critical reaction to Against the Day best: "Like Bruegel’s painting ‘Landscape with the Fall of Icarus,’ this is a portrait of mankind’s attempt to transcend our mortality—or at least push up against its very edge." Thomas Pynchon’s previous novels, including V., The Crying of Lot 49, and Gravity’s Rainbow, tested boundaries as well—not only of our own human understanding but of the fiction craft itself. This newest offering contains familiar elements—a whimsical humor, an erudite intellect, leftist ideals, and a sense of historical logic. Despite its magnificence, however, Against the Day tested most reviewers’ patience (especially Michiko Kakutani’s). The novel’s length, digressions, and intellectual complexity will not please everyone, but those who stick with it are, well, probably smarter than the rest of us.