Literature / The Crying of Lot 49

The Crying of Lot 49 is a 1966 novel (or perhaps novella) by Thomas Pynchon. It is about a woman named Oedipa Maas who unravels the rivalry between two mail distribution companies, Trystero and Thurn und Taxis. Possibly. Or maybe it's an elaborate prank. Or maybe she is actually hallucinating it all.

Though it is significantly shorter than the rest of Pynchon's novels (especially Against the Day and Mason & Dixon), it has become one of Pynchon's most popular books, after Gravity's Rainbow and possibly V. Time magazine included it in its "TIME 100 Best English-language Novels from 1923 to 2005".

This novel contains the following tropes

  • Alternate History: Thurn und Taxis really existed. Trystero (to the best of our knowledge) did not.
  • Arc Number: 49.
  • Arc Symbol: The symbol of Trystero, the muted post horn.
  • Awesome Mc Cool Name: Oedipa Maas, Dr. Hilarius, Genghis Cohen, Mike Fallopian, and a radio station called KCUF.
  • Black Comedy: Loads of it, like a passing story of a businessman debating whether or not to kill himself by setting himself on fire.
  • Bloody Hilarious: The Courier's Tragedy, a (fictional) Jacobean revenge play that features in Chapter 3.
  • Broken Masquerade
  • Brown Note: Dr. Hilarius claims to have once made a silly face so terrible that it drove a man insane.
  • Conspiracy Theory
  • Downer Ending: Regardless of whether or not Oedipa Maas manages to get anything done, it's completely for naught. Either nearly everyone she knows is part of a conspiracy (whether it's a genuine conspiracy or a joke her late husband - who might not even be dead - is playing on her, almost everyone is on it and against her), or she is insane, paranoid and detached from reality. And to top it off, no matter what, the experience has completely broken her.
  • Driven to Suicide: One of the groups whose mail Trystero handles is a support group for failed suicides.
  • Expy: Despite being from Southern California, the four members of the band The Paranoids are very similar to The Beatles. A nickname for The Beatles was "Los Paranoias"note .
  • Fun with Acronyms: Don't Ever Antagonize The Horn, We Await Silent Tristero's Empire, etc.
  • Gainax Ending: Is Oedipa onto a genuine conspiracy? Is the entire thing an elaborate practical joke planned on her by her ex-boyfriend? Is she losing her mind and hallucinating the whole thing? The narrative never tells us, and indeed acknowledges that all of these are possibilities.
  • Herr Doktor: Oedipa's psychiatrist reveals himself to be a former Nazi doctor who experimented on Jews. See Brown Note above.
  • Historical-Domain Character: Several real people, such as William of Orange, appear in Trystero's backstory.
  • Interrupted by the End: Subverting The Reveal, but also endings seconds before lot 49 is cried.
  • It Makes Just As Much Sense In Context: The Title Drop illuminates absolutely nothing.
  • It Was Here, I Swear!: Evidence of Trystero's activities often swiftly vanishes when Oedipa returns to them.
  • Magical Realism: Once the (possibly functional) Maxwell's demon device shows up the novel moves firmly into this territory.
  • Meaningful Name: Largely subverted. Oepida fails to solve a riddle and never commits incest, Mr. Thoth isn't especially wise, and Genghis Cohen is not a barbarian overlord. Dr. Hilarius, however, is pretty goddamn funny.
  • Mind Screw
  • No Ending: Because it's a Pynchon novel. The novel ends just as Oedipa is making headway into her investigation, without telling us what she finds.
  • Posthumous Character: Pierce Inverarity.
  • Post Modernism
  • Shout-Out: When Serge of The Paranoids loses his 16-year old girlfriend to a middle-aged man, he writes a song that namechecks Humbert Humbert. As you would expect from a Pynchon novel, there are dozens of others.
    • He then contemplates hanging around playgrounds to pick up a 8-year-old girlfriend, since his own was stolen by a man twice her age.
      • Still on the Lolita train, it also contains an early usage of the term "nymphet", which might have helped popularize it.
  • Show Within a Show: The Courier's Tragedy, a fictional Jacobean revenge play.
  • Through the Eyes of Madness: It's never explained whether the events of the novel are really happening, or if it's all a big practical joke carried out by Pierce Inverarity, or if Oedipa is simply going mad. Oedipa herself acknowledges that all of these are eminently plausible.
  • Title Drop: In the very last sentence.
  • Unreliable Narrator: Oedipa, possibly.
  • We Are Everywhere