During the early 80s, I liked Pet Benatar well enough. Her songs were catchy and easy to sing along to and she was ll over MTV. So maybe I didn’t “like” her so much as I couldn’t escape her. It bothered me that she was preposterously skinny, and I didn’t like the way she moved in her videos, but I could still rock out. Then she did “Hell is for Children” and it rubbed me the wrong way (I was 14 and easily offended). So I have more or less disliked her ever since—based on nothing really.
When searching for images of Gravity’s Rainbow, well, this one comes up a lot. I didn’t want to listen to it. I really didn’t. But I felt I would be remiss if I left any avenue of GR unturned. What if it offered some kind of insight?
Well, it doesn’t. It’s offers 40 minutes of bland arena rock. There was a drum sound I liked on one of the tracks, but mostly it’s Benatar trying too hard. Or maybe that’s how she always sings, I don’t know. The titles suggest that maybe they have something tenuously related to the book. But they could also just be generic rock angst. I’m not willing to find out. Read the book, it’s more enjoyable.
[MULLED: Week of May 7] Gravity’s Rainbow
After these big, time-consuming novels, I like to take a week and mull. And, quite often, I’ll read what other people have said about the book to see if I can get everything straight in my head.
I was just reading back to my re-assessment of 2666 at the end of the read—wow, I pondered a lot for that one. But I find that for Gravity’s Rainbow, I don’t really have a lot to update or think about. Even though it was difficult in some senses, it doesn’t seem like it was the kind of difficult that could resolve itself after thinking about it.
The thread at Infinite Zombies has been helpful with ideas and opinions, but there also didn’t seem to be any major revelations that made me rethink what I was confused about.
I enjoyed the review of the book in The New York Times, mostly because it was written at the time of the book’s publication. It offers a few insights that I simply wouldn’t have in 2012. And I believe he even gets a fact or two incorrect.
I’m fascinated by the amount of devotional love to the book. Not because I didn’t like it, but because I felt something of a void after reading it. The writing (in parts) was superb. There were wonderful details, really really funny passages and intense emotional moments. That’s a pretty good recommendation in and of itself. I don’t even mind the difficult and hard to follow parts—with a little effort (and there’s nothing wrong with effort), they resolve themselves pretty well (for the most part). My problem is that with all of that build up and work, the novel overall feels unresolved.
I’ve said before I’m not looking for a neat wrap up, but I can’t help feel that the ending of the book is a kind of “and then everybody dies” ending, which is obviously unsatisfying. I accept that I don’t get some of what happened in the end. I mean, there’s so much that I didn’t know about when I read the book, and there are times when the perspective changes so radically that I absolutely believe that I missed something. I haven’t read the Weisenberger commentary, which I’m sure would help, although I kind of resent having to read a commentary to understand what happened. (I actually just glanced at the book on Amazon and I can already see things that I didn’t get).
Part of the confusion is of course, the way the book is written. Al;l along it’s not entirely clearly who is speaking at any given point. And the story tends to lay out something and just sa you go what is he talking about, it circles back and fills in the gaps. Once you get used to this, it’s a fun process (and demands a second read). But the way the book ends, although most of the character arcs are cleared up in some way, you don’t always know if that’s the last you’ll see of certain people. Weisenberger says that Katje et al are part of the Counterforce. And that’s their end. Which is fine. (Even though Katje was with Enzian and her team and I would like to know how THAT turned out). And to be honest I’m still not sure what the Counterforce is a counter too (especially since the war ended). I suppose it’s foolish to be disappointed about the lack of resolution with the 00001—it either works or it doesn’t. But it was such an important plot (right?) that I’m surprised it wasn’t, if not resolved, then at least followed up on. I guess I don’t really know what they were trying to achieve either—on more than a very basic level. Is the point that war is stupid? Is the point to make love not war?
It’s not that the book feels unfinished, it just feels obfuscated.
So I’m curious how come this book made the “Reader’s List” of the MLA’s 100 Best Novels of the 20th Century. Now, this reader’s list is more suspect than most things if only because the top 3 books are:
- ATLAS SHRUGGED by Ayn Rand
- THE FOUNTAINHEAD by Ayn Rand
- BATTLEFIELD EARTH by L. Ron Hubbard
The Rand is presumably politically motivated (no one who enjoys reading actually enjoys reading Rand). And the third, well, Scientology is Scientology. And in the rest of the top ten we have two more Rand and two more Hubbards. So…yes. If you remove these, it puts Gravity’s Rainbow at #14 on the list. Some other books that are high on the list can be understood because they are sci-fi, and I suspect that sci-fi readers have a larger presence on the web than say, lovers of Victorian novels. But even so, Gravity’s Rainbow is way up there. And I wonder what it is that propelled everyone to vote for it? The sex? The kinky sex? The dirty sex? The disturbing sex?
None of this is meant to put the book down. I enjoyed quite a lot of it. I learned a ton of stuff about WWII (really, there’s so much that is historically accurate, it blew my mind), I learned a lot about conspiracies and paranoia and I loved the crazy names he made up. I also laughed out loud a number of times (not something I expected).
In fact, I suppose that the biggest testament to my enjoyment of the book is that I now want to go back and read V. I learned that some of the characters from GR first appeared in V. I don’t know whether reading V. first helps in the enjoyment of GR, but I’m intrigued at the connections.
Sadly, at this time I have at least a half dozen other books I am planning to read first. But I would still like to get into V. before the details of GR slip even further into the ether.
So, if you loved GR and think it’s in the Top 25 books of all time, let me know why.