Thomas Pynchon’s ‘9/11 Novel’ Bleeding Edge: Let the Wild Prognosticating Begin

New York CityLooks like postmodern-lit icon Thomas Pynchon, the Punxsutawney Phil of American letters, will publish a new novel called Bleeding Edge on September 17, his first since 2009’s stoner-P.I. yarn Inherent Vice. According to a year-end financial report released by Penguin Press and subsequently tweeted about by Sarah Weinman of Publishers Marketplace, the book takes place in New York’s Silicon Alley during “the lull between the collapse of the dot-com boom and the terrible events of September 11.”

For now, that’s all we know. The almost-contemporary setting is a surprise, given that Pynchon’s last three books took place in the late 18th century (Mason & Dixon), at the turn of the 20th (Against the Day), and in 1970 (Vice). But the author has been a (more-or-less-anonymous) Manhattanite for many years, and presumably experienced both the crash and 9/11 as directly as everyone else in the city did back then. Smart money — to the extent that there’s a smart-money bet to be made with regard to the plots of still-aborning Pynchon novels — says the two cataclysms will turn out to be connected in a million ways and maybe posited as the product of the same set of historical forces. Or maybe it’ll be about the rise and fall of a thinly disguised Kozmo.com-like company that’s actually an arm of the Tristero. Please let that be the case.

The only other safe bet is that no matter how 9/11-y the book actually turns out to be, it’ll be received as Pynchon’s “9/11 novel,” although you could say that 1973’s Gravity’s Rainbow was his 9/11 novel, too: “They must have guessed, once or twice — guessed and refused to believe — that everything, always, collectively, had been moving toward that purified shape latent in the sky, that shape of no surprise, no second chances, no return.” And if it’s his Internet novel, so was The Crying of Lot 49, with its underground mail-delivery service, and Gravity’s Rainbow, with its Grid of sentient lightbulbs — Pynchon’s been obsessed with the Internet since before there was an Internet. In Inherent Vice, Dude-like shamus Doc Sportello gets help on a missing-persons case from his buddy Fritz, who’s heavy into the ARPANet:

“It’s a network of computers, Doc, all connected together by phone lines. UCLA, Isla Vista, Stanford. Say there’s a file they have up there and you don’t, they’ll send it right along at fifty thousand characters per second … All over the country, in fact the world, there’s new computers gettin plugged in every day. Right now it’s still experimental, but hell, it’s government money, and those fuckers don’t care what they spend, and we’ve had some useful surprises already.”

“Does it know where I can score?”

Vice was Pynchon’s shortest book since Lot 49, and his most straightforward genre exercise. (He’s given his blessing to a film adaptation by Paul Thomas Anderson, which starts shooting any day now, with Joaquin Phoenix set to star as Sportello.) We won’t know until the page count hits Amazon if Edge will be another quick one in the same surprisingly finishable vein or another doorstop like 2006’s dauntingly monumental Against the Day. Either way, though: Kinda can’t wait to watch Pynchon lay bare the vast and ancient interlocking conspiracies that led to the Flooz.com IPO.

Filed Under: Books, Inherent Vice

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Alex Pappademas is a staff writer for Grantland.

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