Pynchon, Thomas

Pynchon, Thomas
born May 8, 1937, Glen Cove, Long Island, N.Y., U.S.

U.S. writer.

He studied physics at Cornell University and worked briefly as a technical writer before devoting himself to fiction. Beginning with his first novel, V (1963), a complex, cynically absurd tale that juxtaposes scenes of 1950s hipster life with symbolic images of the entire century, his works have combined black humour and fantasy to depict human alienation in the chaos of modern society. The idea of conspiracy is central to The Crying of Lot 49 (1966) and to his masterpiece, Gravity's Rainbow (1973), an extraordinary novel about the end of World War II, full of paranoid fantasy, grotesque imagery, and esoteric scientific and anthropological material. Later works include the novels Vineland (1990) and Mason & Dixon (1997) and the story collection Slow Learner (1984). He has lived in hiding or incognito for decades, refusing to grant interviews or be photographed.

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▪ American writer
born May 8, 1937, Glen Cove, Long Island, N.Y., U.S.

      American novelist and short-story writer whose works combine black humour and fantasy to depict human alienation in the chaos of modern society.

      After earning his B.A. in English from Cornell University in 1958, Pynchon spent a year in Greenwich Village writing short stories and working on a novel. In 1960 he was hired as a technical writer for Boeing Aircraft Corporation in Seattle, Wash. Two years later he decided to leave the company and write full-time. In 1963 Pynchon won the Faulkner Foundation Award for his first novel, V. (1963), a whimsical, cynically absurd tale of a middle-aged Englishman's search for “V,” an elusive, supernatural adventuress appearing in various guises at critical periods in European history. In his next book, The Crying of Lot 49 (1966), Pynchon described a woman's strange quest to discover the mysterious, conspiratorial Tristero System in a futuristic world of closed societies. The novel serves as a condemnation of modern industrialization.

      Pynchon's Gravity's Rainbow (1973) is a tour de force in 20th-century literature. In exploring the dilemmas of human beings in the modern world, the story, which is set in an area of post-World War II Germany called “the Zone,” centres on the wanderings of an American soldier who is one of many odd characters looking for a secret V-2 rocket that will supposedly break through the Earth's gravitational barrier when launched. The narrative is filled with descriptions of obsessive and paranoid fantasies, ridiculous and grotesque imagery, and esoteric mathematical and scientific language. For his efforts Pynchon received the National Book Award, and many critics deemed Gravity's Rainbow a visionary, apocalyptic masterpiece. Pynchon's next novel, Vineland—which begins in 1984 in California—was not published until 1990. Two vast, complex historical novels followed: in Mason & Dixon (1997), set in the 18th century, Pynchon took the English surveyors Charles Mason and Jeremiah Dixon as his subject, while Against the Day (2006) moves from the World's Columbian Exposition of 1893 through World War I.

      Of his few short stories, most notable are “Entropy” (1960), a neatly structured tale in which Pynchon first uses extensive technical language and scientific metaphors, and “The Secret Integration” (1964), a story in which Pynchon explores small-town bigotry and racism. The collection Slow Learner (1984) contains “The Secret Integration.”

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Universalium. 2010.

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