Thomas Pynchon (1937-, at left, in his youth, from Trashotron.com) may be the most famous publicity-averse writer in the world, matched perhaps only by J.D. Salinger (1919-). But while Salinger's strange, hermetic bubble has been pierced several times, by writer Joyce Maynard in her tell-all 1972 Time article and subsequent 1999 memoir, and by his daughter Margaret's illuminating, corrective 1999 account, and while Salinger hasn't published (as far as anyone knows) a book or any short fiction since 1965 (nor given an interview since 1974), Pynchon's private life since his mid-1960s seclusion remains most a mystery for the reading public, his Cornell friend Jules Siegel's Playboy article notwithstanding, and he has published several acclaimed novels since then, including one of the greatest novels in the English language, Gravity's Rainbow (1973), as well as the widely panned Vineland (1990) and Mason & Dixon (1997). Because of the absence of any information or publicity about Pynchon and the rarity of publications, announcements of a new book have tended to stir up a hullabaloo, send fans and the media into overdrive.
So it is with his new novel: this past Wednesday on Slate, Troy Patterson created a hubbub by writing about a synopsis of a 992-page work of fiction, titled Untitled Pynchon Novel, that appeared on Amazon.com's Website. Literary bloggers and the media had already begun spreading the news about the book last month. The Amazon synopsis not only bore all the hallmarks of Pynchon's style, but carried his byline as well. Real, or a hoax? Patterson initially wrote that the publicity chief of the book's publisher Penguin "disavow[ed]" all knowledge of the writeup's authorship, and added that Amazon.com hadn't sorted out what its response would be and that, unsurprisingly, Pynchon wasn't returning Patterson's phone call. The next day, however, Patterson posted a clarification. The blurb was Pynchon's handiwork after all, according to Penguin, which, Patterson corrected, did not disclaim the post. What a great bit of PR! The novel is entitled Against the Day, and spans the period between the Chicago Exposition of 1893 and the end of the First World War. One of its central characters may or may not be based on the mathematician Sofia Kovalevskaya; the former German culture minister, Michael Naumann, alleged he'd assisted Pynchon in conducting research on her. Did Pynchon just call him up? When people work with Pynchon, do they sign non-disclosure and non-photography agreements? Penguin supposedly will be publishing the new novel in December of this year. I hope it's more Gravity's Rainbow and The Crying of Lot 49 than Vineland. (I haven't read Mason & Dixon...there are only so many hours in the day....)