Thomas Pynchon, the man who knows everything or is really good at making it up, published his newest this week to general claims of ‘relatively accessible!’ and ‘the punning never stops!’ Brimming with post-Internet prophecy and too-true observation, Bleeding Edge has gotten mixedreviews and reminded us that Pynchon’s policy on creating characters is probably something like ‘More is more’. Check out ten of our faves. Should you find yourself chin-deep in unfinished plots, having recently looked up the word ‘coprophilia’, remember: what doesn’t kill you makes you sound really smart at parties.
Yashmeen Halfcourt, Against the Day (2006)
‘Others found her as a faithless harlot whose mission in life was to lure promising mathematicians into premature demise by duel, as the infamous Mademoiselle du Motel had done to group-theory godfather Evariste Galois back in 1832.’ See also: Margherita Erdman, the faithless harlot in Gravity’s Rainbow who is probably a spy and has an outfit made of ‘erotic plastic’.
Meatball Mulligan, ‘Entropy’, Slow Learner (1984) (originally published in 1960)
Although later denounced as try-hard and ‘too cute’ by Pynchon himself, anyone who throws a party that could possibly end up never ending is OK in our book.
Oedipa Maas, The Crying of Lot 49 (1966)
Perhaps the only truly relatable character in any Pynchon novel, the heroine of what some call his most accessible work is an obvious choice for any unrelentingly post-modern attempt to reduce the author’s might-as-well-be-endless cast of characters to a skimmable ten. Still, her willingness to construct a narrative out of Pynchon’s chaotic world charms; it’s not so different from what’s required to survive in this one. His protagonist in Bleeding Edge, Maxine Tarnow, is an Oedipa for the Internet age.
Reverend Wicks Cherrycoke from Mason & Dixon (1997)
Not unlike the author himself, the central metafictional mindfuck in Mason & Dixon is at once both imminently wise and full of shit. '... Who claims Truth, Truth abandons... History... is too innocent, to be left within the reach of anyone in Power, –who need but touch her, and all her Credit is in the instant vanish'd, as if it had never been.'
Pig Bodine from V., Gravity's Rainbow, Lowlands
To the self-satisfied reader of ‘difficult’ authors, few things are more rewarding than spotting a recurring character. This one recurs a bunch of times, both explicitly and implicitly, apparently for the sole purpose of inspiring looks of smug knowingness and light chuckling to oneself in public.
The Hand of God from Gravity’s Rainbow (1973)
‘The powdery wipe of Nothing’s hand’ is often held in the gesture for ‘fuck you’. The underlying futility of it all would be heartbreaking – at one point, protagonist Tyrone Slothrop compiles a ‘Partial List of Wishes on Evening Stars for This Period’ – but in Gravity’s Rainbow humanity responds to the horrors of World War II and the feelings of helplessness that accompany them in the only way it knows how: with conspiracy theories and lots of weird sex. See also: V-2 rocket, a massive flaming phallic symbol.
Rocky Slagiatt from Bleeding Edge (2013)
Seemed Like A Good Idea At The Time.
Brock Vond from Vineland (1990)
Brock Vond is the villain of Pynchon’s novel on California subculture whose penis converts Vineland’s woman-on-the-run, Frenesi, from loving radical filmmaker mom to F.B.I. double agent. He evades assassination by lethal sex act but eventually gets his comeuppance, though that’s not as happy an ending for the American political climate as it sounds.
The Paranoids from The Crying of Lot 49 (1966)
Americans who sing with British accents, the dopey Paranoids evoke our sympathy more than anything else – their haplessness seems a result of the pressures of pop culture rather than any conniving malcontent, rare for Pynchon. Plus, their foibles – hair too thick to see to drive, lovers lost to middle-aged lawyers – are just as relevant today as they were 50 years ago. "What chance has a lonely surfer boy / For the love of a surfer chick, / With all these Humbert Humbert cats / Coming on so big and sick?"
Rachel Owlglass from V. (1963)
Pynchon’s first novel introduces us to the enigmatic female whose sly-but-not-that-sly quippiness will make us wonder if we’re dazzled throughout his oeuvre. Acutely in love with her MG sports car, Rachel drives ‘like the one of the damned on holiday’, her ‘yo-yo hand’ tugging at both the MG’s sexy gearshift and, later, protagonist Benny Profane’s more nostalgic heartstrings.
Follow Lauren Oyler on Twitter here @laurenoyler