Not all enigmatic authors are cut from the same camouflaged cloth. If J.D. Salinger wore his reclusiveness like a cloak, Thomas Pynchon wears his like Groucho Marx glasses. Far from eschewing modern-day life for an existence as a literary hermit, Pynchon is a pop culture sponge even at 76. His most recent novel, Bleeding Edge, is also his most recently set — a digital-age detective story that takes place in 2001, after the dotcom bubble has burst — and it practically vibrates with immediacy and period references. It’s as hysterical and slightly unhinged as a Tickle Me Elmo.
Maxine Tarnow is a discredited fraud investigator who finds herself sinking inch by inch into a morass involving a nasty Silicon Alley billionaire, government agents, Russian gangsters, and a menagerie of code-addled hackers and programmers. That’s not to mention her occasional descents into the sticky abyss known as the Deep Web.
Bleeding Edge is the author’s second noir-shaded novel in a row, following 2009’s pot-hazy Inherent Vice, which took place in the sun and shadows of post-hippie Los Angeles. The new book sets up shop in New York City, however, and serves as a warts-and-all paean to Pynchon’s hometown. Actually, warts especially.
The central plot here has a tendency to roam with vague intention, and the mystery relies on narrative kismet to an almost comical degree — everybody Maxine meets is somehow connected to everybody else. Still, Pynchon’s prose is irresistible. It’s playful and bustling — cheesy puns rub elbows with Big Ideas — and builds up more than enough momentum to carry the reader when the book’s main motor starts to sputter. Pynchon is fascinated by how our lives are being converted ever more into zeros and ones. It’s fitting, then, that his latest is like the Internet itself: sprawling, centerless, weird, worrying, and often wonderful. A-