Literature / Gravity's Rainbow

"What?"

Gravity's Rainbow is a 1973 novel, a postmodern Doorstopper by Thomas Pynchon made of Mind Screw that split the Pulitzer board to the extent that no award was given that year. Gravity's Rainbow is set during the closing months of World War II, with flashbacks to 19th-century Madagascar, Weimar Berlin and 18th-century New England, and a flashforward to 1970s Hollywood, and breaks every rule of plot. Here we go now:

American soldier Tyrone Slothrop is hunted by a wing of British scientists, media men, military personnel and lunatics called The White Visitation, after it comes to light that every time he has sex with a British woman, a V2 rocket hits the house within days and that his erections may be able to predict V2 attacks on London. Slothrop, addled by justified paranoia, goes AWOL and, along with dozens of other characters, hunts for the truth behind a top secret German rocket known as the Schwarzgerät or '00000', while being sidetracked by movie producers, Berlin drug dealers, and an affair with a witch. Meanwhile a Russian marine sets off to hunt down and kill his black half-brother, who is currently leading his platoon around Europe toward an ethnic suicide, and various characters form an inept Counterforce to the novel's conspiracy networks, along with about 30 other subplots.

This book contains examples of:

  • Anachronic Order: To call this book "non-linear" is like calling the Pacific Ocean "a bit damp". It might possibly be the first and only novel written in a fractal narrative!
  • Anti-Climax: Enzian and Tchitcherine's vendetta.
  • Applied Phlebotinum: A plastic called Imipolex G.
  • Ax-Crazy: Margherita, who believes she is an avatar of a Hindu goddess.
  • Bawdy Song: A sequence of dirty limericks about engineers having sex with electrical devices and rocket equipment.
  • Banana Peel
  • Bilingual Bonus: The novel has liberal doses of words and phrases from French, German, Spanish, and Herero.
  • Blob Monster: A giant sentient adenoid that consumes its victims in acid, who seem to like it.
  • Brick Joke: "You never did the Kenosha Kid."
  • Byronic Hero: Tyrone Slothrop is the closest thing the novel has to a protagonist.
  • Cain and Abel: Tchitcherine and Enzian
  • The Cameo: John F. Kennedy, Malcolm X, and Mickey Rooney all make appearances.
  • Conspiracy Kitchen Sink: All the book's fictional conspiracies.
  • Cosmic Plaything: Poor Byron, the "immortal" light bulb.
  • Covert Pervert: Brigadier Pudding.
  • Deconstructor Fleet: Which promptly gets shot out of the sky by a V2 rocket.
  • Defrosting Ice Queen- Katje
  • Depraved Homosexual: And Depraved Heterosexuals, Depraved Bisexuals, Depraved Asexuals, Depraved Omnisexuals...just depravity in general.
  • Does This Remind You of Anything?: The hunting of Dodos to extinctionnote  and the Nazi Imperial German genocide of Hereros in South Africa Deutsch-Südwestafrika (now Namibia) are detailed instead of the Holocaust.
  • Doorstopper: Well past the 700 pages mark in most editions.
  • Flashforward: To 1970s Hollywood.
  • Gainax Ending: The novel ends with Rocket 00000 destroying the text. Possibly.
  • Genre-Busting: Skips between sci-fi, war, romance, pornography, family tragedy, horror and slapstick comedy.
  • Genre Roulette: Possible literal example at the Casino Hermann Goering.
  • Gratuitous German: "Fickt nicht mit der Racketemench!"
  • Groin Attack: What happens to Major Marvy at the hands of Muffage and Spontoon.
  • Happiness in Slavery: Horribly applied to Gottfried.
  • Historical In-Joke
  • Hooker with a Heart of Gold: Savagely subverted.
  • Hot Witch: Geli Tripping, apprentice German witch.
  • Hurricane of Puns
  • Improvised Weapon: Man with custard pies vs. biplane.
  • Karma Houdini: Blicero.
  • Killed Offscreen: Blicero and Tantivy.
  • Kudzu Plot
  • La Résistance: To whom Failure Is the Only Option.
  • Loads and Loads of Characters: Over 400, with about 40 recurring.
  • Mad Scientist: Recurring Pavlovian villain Ned Pointsman.
  • Magic Realism
  • Mildly Military: None of the novels soldiers and commanders are actually doing their job.
  • Mind Screw: And how!!
  • The Musical: Most of the chapters contain an original song or poem.
  • No Ending: Although a flashback does solve one of the mysteries of the rocket.
  • No Fourth Wall: Pynchon frequently addresses the reader directly as "You". Also, some critics believe that at the end, Rocket 00000 destroys the novel itself, but with a book this dense, it's difficult to tell.
  • Painting the Medium: Once Slothrop dissolves, the entire novel begins losing its narrative thread and becomes even more incoherent. It's also possible that the novel's abrupt ending is symbolic of the text itself being destroyed by a rocket, or perhaps losing its thread for good.
  • Post Modernism: A landmark novel in the movement.
  • Properly Paranoid: Slothrop to a tee; possibly the main theme of the book, "Just because I'm paranoid, doesn't mean I'm wrong." However Pynchon also sees the world as far more complex and random than even the most paranoid can fathom, a point which is driven home by the novel's fragmented and abrupt conclusion:
    "If there is something comforting - religious, if you want - about paranoia, there is still also anti-paranoia, where nothing is connected to anything, a condition not many of us can bear for long."
  • Rape as Drama
  • Refuge in Audacity: Giant adenoids, a trip to hell, sentient lightbulbs and mice who talk like James Cagney.
  • Rule of Symbolism: More than you can possibly imagine...and you'll probably see quite a bit else there as well while you're at it (see "What do you mean...") Even the Squick is used symbolically.
  • Science Is Bad
  • Screw the War, We're Partying!: Slothrop and everyone he encounters in Berlin.
    They're in love. Fuck the war.
  • Shown Their Work:
    • The formulae for rocket projections. Used symbolically, if you can believe it. For example: the double-integration symbol for the acceleration-to-position calculation and its similarity to the Gestapo SS logo and the use of parabolas (the flight path of the rockets) in architecture and possibly the format of the book itself.
    • One of the real-life V2 rockets did indeed attack a movie theatre in Amsterdam, killing people in the middle of a show.
    • In general, the novel prominently features knowledge from chemistry, physics, history, mathematics and a ton of other fields, and uses it thematically.
  • Shout-Out: Many, typically to popular songs from The '70s, such as "Rocket Man".
  • Sidequest: Slothrop is always on one of these instead of his main quest.
  • South Africans with Surface-to-Air Missiles: Played for tragedy with the Herero tribe's wandering rocket technicians.
  • Tarot Motifs: At one point Slothrop has a tarot reading. He draws The Fool, the Hanged Man and the three of pentacles reversed. Pynchon also notes the visual similarity between the Rocket and The Tower.
  • Those Wacky Nazis: Blicero, who spends his days having severe BSDM threesomes while rockets bombard his test site.
  • Truth Serum: Subverted. Slothrop is interrogated twice under Sodium Amytal, but both times he is reduced to surreal babblings and squicky nightmares instead of volunteering information. Pynchon's presentation is Truth in Television, as sodium amytal does not work the way it is usually depicted in media.
  • Readers Are Geniuses
  • Walking the Earth: Slothrop and The Schwarzcommandos. Everything in this book is symbolic, even when it's not.
  • World War II

“Now everybody—”