accomplishments, challenge, dialogue, finish what you start, Gravity's Rainbow, groove, Inherent Vice, literature, plot, postmodernism, punctuation, reading, reality, swamp, The End, thomas pynchon, tome, writing critique, writing critique groups
I’m not a quitter. Really, I’m not. I don’t think I ever have been either, and I never intend to start. Forget marijuana or heroin, the thrill of completion is my idea of a high.
I don’t recall if it was my parents who instilled this idea of finishing things in my early childhood years (finish everything on your plate!) or if it was one of the many athletic coaches I had along the way (run the mile under 6:30 and practice is over). As I grew into adulthood, I continued to finish what I started. College. Graduate School. Projects at work. Writing the first draft of my book, then writing the second, third and fourth drafts.
Accomplishment is a nice feeling. However, there is one elusive object I cannot seem to finish that dangles out ahead of me, taunting me with its incompleteness. It’s not something I desire, but it has become something of an excruciating remonstrance of a challenge, indeed.
It is Thomas Pynchon’s Gravity’s Rainbow.
This tome was recommended to me approximately 20 years ago after recounting the enjoyment of reading another of Pynchon’s work, The Crying of Lot 49, in a Postmodernism Graduate seminar.
I dug into Gravity’s Rainbow with the usual enthusiasm I have for recommended literature. I know many people have read this and survived. However, fifty pages in, I put down the 700+ page monster in a stupor. I had no recollection or grasp of the context I just read. Words swirled and landed in complete disarray in my brain. I had wandered into a swamp of sentences, punctuation and dialogue. Awhile later, I tried again to tackle the beast, restarting at page one only to experience the same frustrating phenomenon all over again. Since then, I’ve made several more attempts, each time making it a little further into the book, but never making it to “the end.”
Now I’ve taken on another one of Pynchon’s work, Inherent Vice, after seeing movie trailers for the film’s recent big screen adaptation. While this novel is not nearly as formidable and foreboding as Gravity’s Rainbow, it has its own whirlpooling issues. Most significant for me is the rhythm of the multitude of characters, places, drugs and clothing descriptions introduced. (I can envision two people in my writing critique group, who, if another writer would submit this same work for critique, would giddily exclaim, ‘I HATED THIS!’) Once I let go of literary conventions and fell into the groove of the novel, I began to appreciate the strength of the plot and the antagonist’s journey. It’s taking me longer than usual to read the book, but I’m starting to dig it.
I refuse to give up on Gravity’s Rainbow, and it may take me another 20 years before I’m able to move it to the “Finished Reading” section of my library, but I’ll get there.
So what’s been your white whale, the one project you’ve started but can never quite seem to finish?