Written in response to:
Well done James Gourley, for taking a look at Thomas Pynchon’s astonishingly good Bleeding Edge, including the curmudgeonly critical reception, but finding a way to move beyond that. It is extraordinary how many of the reviews of Bleeding Edge got bogged down in what Gourley calls the ‘interpretive assumptions that have come to surround Pynchon’s work’. Well done, too, to sort through such a complex novel, which holds our exhaustion at bay by using the detective story framework that many critics have found distasteful. Nothing is simple in Bleeding Edge (what a brilliant title), and if those who dislike it would just bother to put aside ‘interpretive assumptions’, they might find it unfurling like a mushroom cloud.
There is terrible humour in Bleeding Edge, and it is so funny and sassy it makes it hard to imagine how this venerable and deliberately mysterious writer managed to out-hip the kind of writer who claims cutting-edgeness, but is really just rehashing old stuff. When Pynchon, for example, writes about ‘ritual moments, the chances to spend time with loved ones’, as Gourley points out, there is to be considered at the same time Maxine’s rather vexed relationship with her uninteresting husband, and also her attraction to a man who is the embodiment of evil. Maxine is an impossible character, but you have to find her believable if the novel is to work. Frankly, I cannot think of many writers, male or female, young or old, who have got as close as Pynchon here to the strangeness of desire and the dangers of lust. As for the loved ones, as well as her sons, there is, indeed, her father, and those few pages where they discuss the world and their place in it have been accused of sentimentality. If so, then we need such sentiment.
I don’t think it matters what position this novel holds in Pynchon’s oeuvre, although someone who has ploughed through Gravity’s Rainbow and is proud of the fact may well be disappointed that this one, despite some of the incomprehensible technology-jargon, is so readable. It was lovely to be able to revisit Bleeding Edge via this article, a pleasure to find useful comments about such things as the difference between post-9/11 novels written in the immediate aftermath and this one, which seems all the more powerful for the delay. As Gourley points out, Bleeding Edge is ‘closely related to the time it was written’, which possibly means it also needs to be read close to that time, and will not, like Gravity’s Rainbow, become a classic. But I imagine the same could have been said for Dickens or Austen: classics are not so much about timelessness as about truth.