A Gravity's Rainbow Companion: Sources and Contexts for Pynchon's Novel

A Gravity's Rainbow Companion: Sources and Contexts for Pynchon's Novel

A Gravity's Rainbow Companion: Sources and Contexts for Pynchon's Novel

A Gravity's Rainbow Companion: Sources and Contexts for Pynchon's Novel


Adding some 20 percent to the original content, this is a completely updated edition of Steven Weisenburger's indispensable guide to Thomas Pynchon's Gravity's Rainbow. Weisenburger takes the reader page by page, often line by line, through the welter of historical references, scientific data, cultural fragments, anthropological research, jokes, and puns around which Pynchon wove his story. Weisenburger fully annotates Pynchon's use of languages ranging from Russian and Hebrew to such subdialects of English as 1940s street talk, drug lingo, and military slang as well as the more obscure terminology of black magic, Rosicrucianism, and Pavlovian psychology. The Companion also reveals the underlying organization of Gravity's Rainbow --how the book's myriad references form patterns of meaning and structure that have eluded both admirers and critics of the novel.

The Companion is keyed to the pages of the principal American editions of Gravity's Rainbow: Viking/Penguin (1973), Bantam (1974), and the special, repaginated Penguin paperback (2000) honoring the novel as one of twenty "Great Books of the Twentieth Century."


The first draft of Gravity’s Rainbow was written out in neat, tiny script on engineers’ quadrille paper. the idea had grown, parts of it during a stint in Mexico, from V., Pynchon’s first novel. It had been put aside for a second book, The Crying of Lot 49 (“in which I seem to have forgotten most of what I thought I’d learned up till then,” Pynchon would later lament, too harsh a critic of his own work [Slow Learner 22]). It was completed in southern California and New York. Visitors to his cave-like rooms perched two blocks up from the Pacific in Manhattan Beach, a Los Angeles suburb, recall only a cot, desk, and some bookshelves. One ruling mood of the place was a monkish impermanence; another, his warm, nonchalant eccentricity. Arranged on the shelves were an assortment of piggy banks and several books about swine. He delighted in a friend’s wife who could parody Shirley Temple singing “On the Good Ship Lollipop.” On his desk were deposited, in strata, various letters, miscellanea, and those quadrille sheets. Atop them stood a rocket constructed much like one of Picasso’s found objects: it was made out of a pencil-type eraser (the kind from which you peel off the corkscrew wrapper) in which a needle had been inserted to form a nose and to which a bent paper clip had been attached to serve as a launching pad.

Gravity’s Rainbow was released on February 28, 1973, under the astrological sign of Pisces, the watery house of dreams and dissolution. “Madness spews forth in torrents, Pandora’s evils incarnate!” wrote Publishers Weekly. Richard M. Nixon, satirized in the novel’s final pages as Richard M. Zhlubb, was referring to “the Watergate mess” as an obsessive fabrication of newswriters, and much of the nation still believed him.

Thomas Pynchon’s big book quickly confirmed him as one of the few novelists of unprecedented genius to emerge in the postwar era. Here was the Great American Novel at last. the reviewers’ favorite comparisons were to Moby Dick and Ulysses. There was a remarkable flap over the Pulitzer awards, with judges so sharply divided against trustees over the book that no award in fiction was given—the only year that’s ever happened. the novel won a National Book Award (shared it, with Isaac Bashevis Singer, for A Crown of Feathers), and it was awarded a Howells Medal in 1975 (though, speaking on Pynchon’s behalf, stand-up comic Irwin Corey made light of the honor). That early hoopla has long since yielded to more sober assessments of Pynchon’s achievement, but scholarly critics have also tended toward superlatives. Tony Tanner (Thomas Pynchon 75), for instance, hails the book . . .

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