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Thomas Pynchon: The Crying of Lot 49

This is probably Pynchon’s most read novel. It is his shortest. It is told from the point of view of only one character. The plot, though certainly not straightforward, is perhaps simpler than those of his other novels. This does not mean it should be underestimated. Critics have struggled to find a meaning in it. Of course, as this is Pynchon, there is no meaning and several meanings.

Oedipa Maas is the wife of a DJ in Northern California. One day (on returning from a Tupperware party), she learns that she has been appointed executor to the estate of Pierce Inverarity, a wealthy industrialist and former boyfriend who has just died. She travels to San Narciso, a fictional town near Los Angeles, where Inverarity lived. Looking into his estate and his assets, she founds the evidence for the possible existence of Tristero, a sort of underground postal service that has been in existence for hundreds of years and may well still be, unbeknownst to most people. The connections come through Inverarity’s stamp collection, his company, Yoyodyne and even references in an Elizabethan play. In particular, they come from the acronym WASTE, which, she finds out, stands for We Await Silent Tristero’s Empire. Oedipa also meets the usual crowd of eccentrics along the way – from the man building a perpetual motion machine to the director of the Elizabethan play, which may or may not hold the key to Tristero. Once again, nothing is as it seems, paranoia is high, the history we learned in high school is not what really happened and the world is full of strange people. If you struggle with Pynchon, read this as it is his most accessible work and thoroughly enjoyable.

Publishing history

First published 1966 by Lippincott