‘Bleeding Edge’ by Thomas Pynchon
The most reclusive author in America strikes again and strikes hard with Bleeding Edge. As any English student can tell you, the 76-year-old Thomas Pynchon does not do press, does not make public appearances, and does not really exist outside the pages of his fantastical novels. He is so reclusive that, in fact, only two pictures of him can be found – one his 1950s Navy ID and the other an old mug shot – so we are left to wonder just what the hell Pynchon, genius that he is, does when he’s not writing masterpieces of American Literature? If Bleeding Edge is any sort of clue, we can deduce that he spends his free time doing research; a lot of research.
Pynchon has delivered a hard shot to the gut with his latest, released in September. Bleeding Edge presents with a setting so nuanced and so detailed that readers have no choice but to become a bonafide New Yorker for four-hundred some odd pages. The personalities, the vernacular, and the geographical references are integrated and presented so seamlessly that Pynchon succeeds in creating the type of New York that makes Richard Price seem as though he’s never set foot in the city that never sleeps.
Creating such a textured world is a massive achievement in and of itself yet Pynchon is merely laying the framework of which only the best are capable. The particular time period he has chosen for his novel is a post dot-com bubble, pre-9/11 (as in, mere weeks pre-9/11) New York where the remaining tech giants are gobbling up the remnants of the biggest losers. Much like the aftermath of an ancient battle, the defeated lay dying in the fields as the prevailing armies march through, claiming all leftovers as their spoil; from surplus fiber optic cable to abandoned tech and everyone from wounded coders to aimless website designers, the large army continues to march, impressing the conquered into their service.
With his characteristic conspiratorial paranoia, Pynchon would like you to know that things are not so simple as the sausage of late-capitalism being made in the grinder of the information and technology era. The moving parts of this massive organism are not distilled, rather they flow toward some grand, nefarious delta of absolute power. It is the root of this power, the top of the pyramid (ahem, do not think for an instant we are left without references to Bernie Madoff in this novel) where the man behind the curtain, the novel’s main antagonist, is the face of the even larger forces at play. These larger forces possess such power that they act in defense of their financial interests, indicative of foresight into the deadliest attack in American history.
With such massive themes at work, it takes a master to find a foothold to construct a coherent narrative.
Our guide through this twisted maze towards the top, beset by disgruntled IT geeks, shady venture capitalists, Russian mobsters, CIA government heavies, and drug runners is the dynamic and alluring Maxine Turnow. A formerly-licensed fraud investigator and owner/operator of Tail ‘em and Nail ‘em Inc., Maxine is the divorced mother of two young sons and perma-Upper West Sider who negotiates a gauntlet of under-handed and double-dealing quasi-criminals as she investigates the dubious dealings of Gabriel Ice.
Ice is the man at the top, the man whose odd financial transactions catch the eye of Maxine, the eagle-eyed, nine millimeter-packing Jewish mother who is just a tad too sweet and too attractive to be hard boiled and a tad too snappy to be called a sweetheart. Like Oedipa in The Crying of Lot ’49, Maxine finds herself in the unenviable position of trying to make sense of it all, knowing all the while that she will not like what she finds.
As Maxine’s investigation unfolds, the reader finds that Gabriel Ice, a boy-wonder tech gazillionaire, is somehow worse than he seems. Though the reader knows the dark conclusion the days will ultimately reach, Pynchon still manages to tell a wholly fresh, purely original, and highly entertaining story in which readers – even non-fans – will find themselves lost.
Sizzling dialogue effortlessly combined with complex technical references and unforgettable characters, create a fascinating story and re-double Pynchon’s age-old argument that it may be us versus them, but they have fixed the game before we even started playing.
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