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Thomas Pynchon

Biography

Thomas Pynchon is famous for two things. He is, of course, a very famous writer, which is why he is here. He is also a total recluse. Few people, if any, have seen him. You will see the odd photo of him on some of the websites below but no-one can be certain that they are authentic. There are various theories as to who he is and who actually wrote his books, all of which are entirely speculative. In the 1990s he married his literary agent and they had a son, whose first name is her maiden name, so we must assume that she has seen him. But he still remains elusive. He was on the Simpsons, has written for the New York Times and even writes book blurbs. He won the National Book Award but did not accept it in person and won a MacArthur grant in 1988. Of course, this is generally irrelevant to the fact that he is one of the foremost writers of the latter half of the twentieth century, whoever he may be.

As for the bio, we naturally don’t know much about him. His family has a long history, his first ancestor having arrived in America in 1630. A family member features in Hawthorne’s House of the Seven Gables (as Pyncheon). Pynchon was apparently born in 1937 on Long Island, New York. His father was a surveyor. He went to Cornell, where he was taught by Nabokov. After that, he was in the navy for two years and then returned to Cornell to finish his degree in English. While there he published some of his early stories in an in-house magazine, based to some degree on the Second Law of Thermodynamics, which was to be key in his writing and in that of other twentieth century writers. (The stories were collected in Slow Learner). He then worked as an in-house writer for Boeing.

After that he more or less disappeared, living (allegedly) in California, Mexico and, more recently, in New York, except for producing three of the finest novels of the late twentieth century. These three novels – typified by an incredibly detailed and complex knowledge of the world, particularly the scientific world, detailed historical knowledge, black humour, incredibly complicated and epic plots, in-jokes and references galore and, of course, entropy, not just by references but by using it as an essential structure of his novels – brought him considerable fame, which he shunned. Many readers have struggled with his novels and often given up. They certainly require an effort but an effort that is richly rewarded. His later work, while interesting, is not up to the same standard.

Other links

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Thomas Pynchon Home Page
Thomas Pynchon: A Brief Chronology
Pynchon Notes
PynchonWiki
Pynchon Index (English/German)
Some Things That”Happen” (More Or Less) In Gravity’s Rainbow
A Readers’ Guide to Thomas Pynchon’s Vineland
Thomas Pynchon’s South Bay Years
The Unofficial Thomas Pynchon Guide to Los Angeles
Smoking Dope with Thomas Pynchon: A Sixties Memoir
Pynchon’s Inferno

Tracking Him Down

Where’s Thomas Pynchon?
Have you seen this man?
Have they finally caught up with him?
Who’s Writing Whose Writing?
Gravity’s Pull
Thomas Pynchon FAQ
Thomas Pynchon – Media Scrutiny

By Pynchon

A Journey into the Mind of Watts
Words for Salman Rushdie
Is it O.K. to be a Luddite?
Introduction to The Writings of Donald Barthelme
The Deadly Sins/Sloth; Nearer, My Couch, to Thee
The Heart’s Eternal Vow (Pynchon’s review of Love In The Time Of Cholera by Gabriel García Márquez)
Mortality and Mercy in Vienna
Recluse speaks out to defend McEwan

Bibliography

1963 V (novel)
1966 The Crying of Lot 49 (novel)
1973 Gravity’s Rainbow (novel)
1984 Slow Learner (stories)
1990 Vineland (novel)
1997 Mason & Dixon (novel)
2006 Against the Day (novel)
2009 Inherent Vice (novel)
2013 Bleeding Edge (novel)