There aren’t many authors left with even a whiff of mystique (witness poor Cormac McCarthy on Oprah). Everyone has been interviewed and photographed to the point where their work is almost the shadow of their biography. With the exception of J.D. Salinger, who we must assume to be still living, despite most evidence to the contrary (the last thing he published was Hapworth in 1965), the only other living writer of mystery is Thomas Pynchon, about whom almost nothing is known except that he is male, American, white, married, and in his seventies. He is the author of such universes-in-book-form as Gravity’s Rainbow, Mason & Dixon, Against the Day, and forthcoming in August 2009, Inherent Vice, which promises to be a neo-noir detective story with shades of the psychedelic.
Pynchon is reportedly neither pathologically shy, nor a misanthrope. He just doesn’t seem willing to take part in the commodification of his work, which is wholly commendable, though perhaps no longer possible in today’s publishing climate (says he, somewhat defensively, as he types his blog). There’s an extract (probably the beginning) in the Penguin Press Summer 2009 catalogue.
Why should you care? Because Pynchon writes beautiful prose. Because he explores the tangled ways in which our present mess (by which I mean the state of things since World War I) emerged, solidified, occasionally slackened, then tightened once again. It is about the modern world that you and I, for all our sins, are temporarily stuck in.
Happy New Year. Perhaps.