2013年美国国家图书奖获奖作品《上帝鸟》

“我们需要找到一种方法,让我们在讨论过去时,能有自己发挥的空间,也允许错误的存在。即使我们对所探讨的主题缺乏足够的了解和智慧,我们仍然可以磕绊前行。如果不这样的话,就不存在对话。如果没有对话,话语就会枯竭,学习就会停止,相互理解的能力也就烟消云散了。”

—— 詹姆斯・麦克布莱德

James McBride and his The Good Lord Bird

美国国家图书奖,这一美国文学界的最高奖项之一,于当地时间11月20日在纽约举行的晚宴上揭开了其获奖者的神秘面纱……

始于1950年的美国国家图书奖,至今已有64年的历史了。而此次获得该奖(小说类)的既不是之前短名单中的两大热门小说:《前沿》和《十二月十日》,也不是刚刚与英国布克奖失之交臂的茱帕・拉希里的小说《低地》,而是——詹姆斯・麦克布莱德的《上帝鸟》。对于如此出人意料的结果,读者可能都早已有些心理准备了。文学界的获奖结果总是让人充满期待,而又不乏惊喜。

也许大部分读者都对詹姆斯・麦克布莱德及其获奖作品《上帝鸟》感到比较陌生。而此次其能一举夺得美国文学界最高奖,虽说是在意料之外,却也是在情理之中。

现年56岁的麦克布莱德是美国作家兼音乐家,生长于布鲁克林。他的父亲是一位非裔美国人,母亲是一位来自波兰的犹太移民。1979年麦克布莱德于欧柏林学院获得音乐创作学士学位,此后又在哥伦比亚大学完成了新闻学的学习,并获得硕士学位。作为新闻记者,他是多个知名出版物的撰稿人,其中包括《华盛顿邮报》、《纽约时报》、《人物》周刊等。目前麦克布莱德是纽约大学著名的名誉驻校作家。

在发表此次获奖作品《上帝鸟》之前,麦克布莱德已有多部小说以及剧本问世。他于1996年出版的自传体小说《水的颜色》,连续两年跻身于纽约时报的畅销书名单,并成为了美国经典文学作品之一。其早期小说作品还包括《圣安娜奇迹》、《歌声悠扬》,前者经好莱坞黑人导演斯派克·李改编为同名电影,后者入围有色人种促进协会形象奖和代顿文学和平奖决选名单。

麦克布莱德此次的获奖小说《上帝鸟》出版于2013年8月。小说以十九世纪五十年代末美国废奴运动为背景,讲述了美国南北战争爆发前夕的一段故事……

1857年,堪萨斯领地正陷入如火如荼的奴隶制度存废之争。小说的叙事者亨利·沙克尔福德是一个生活在这里的年仅12岁的黑奴。当史上著名的废奴运动领导者约翰·布朗抵达此地之后,与亨利的主人发生争执,并最终演变成暴力冲突。也就是在那个下午,亨利的父亲被杀害。变成孤儿的亨利最后被迫随布朗一道离开该地。由于亨利弯曲的头发、纤细的身躯以及柔弱的声音,布朗误认为他是个女孩,并把他叫做“小洋葱”;而亨利为了更好地生存下去也将错就错,隐瞒了自己的真实性别,以一个女性的身份一直跟随布朗辗转各地:在密苏里,他住进了妓院;在费城,他惊叹于那里的拥有自由的黑人公民,他们就同白人一样拄着拐杖,带着胸针和戒指,而对奴隶制毫不关心;在波士顿,他出席了一个废奴主义者集会,在会上每个人都会就黑人问题发表演讲,除了黑人。直到1859年,两人到达弗吉尼亚州的哈珀斯费里,布朗在那里发动了起义。亨利最后也找回了自己。

对于约翰·布朗这一历史人物以及其在美国弗吉尼亚州的哈珀斯费里发动起义这一历史事件,想必读者们并不陌生。《上帝鸟》也显然不是第一部关于约翰·布朗的文学作品,赫尔曼·麦尔维尔、兰斯顿·休斯、罗素·班克斯等都曾描写过这个历史人物。

但是麦克布莱德对该历史人物和事件的重塑却独具创新:他将虚构的人物——年轻黑奴亨利加入到布朗的一小群跟随者中,并通过他的视角以及夸张、搞笑、讽刺的叙事手法让我们看到了不一样的历史人物与事件。

麦克布莱德说:“关于约翰·布朗的作品已经有很多了。他们都是严肃的作品。……我想写一部让人们发笑同时也让他们思考的作品。同时,这种夸张搞笑的手法更容易接近于真实,而且不压抑。”

的确,《上帝鸟》是一本轻松的读物,其中充满了各种逗笑的情节。对于历史小说来讲,尤其是关于奴隶制和内战的小说,这是不同寻常的。但是,《上帝鸟》绝不是对约翰·布朗的挖苦。恰恰相反,对这位英雄的“戏说”,不是一种讽刺而是另一种尊崇。在麦克布莱德的笔下约翰·布朗是一个伟大的战士,但同时,他也激进、偏执,他也有缺点,也有会做出荒谬的事。他仿佛就是我们身旁的一个朋友,栩栩如生。当我们读到小说末尾,看到监狱中的布朗,仍在不停说道,我们不禁为他感到悲哀。他是那么独特,就如书名所指的“上帝鸟”一样——如此的罕见,以至于谁见到它都不禁惊叹一声“上帝啊!”。麦克布莱德通过这种让约翰·布朗更人性化的手法,给约翰·布朗献上了自己的赞歌。

在小说中,约翰·布朗是一个疯狂不羁的老人,但他却比以往任何时候更具英雄的魅力。也许该书最大的意义就在于:它再次让人们思考历史书写与小说之间的关系。

麦克布莱德无疑是尊重历史的。他煞费苦心地加入了诸多历史细节,如和哈丽特·塔布曼的会面、道格拉斯和布朗最终的分道扬镳等。尽管“书中夸张的人物做着滑稽的事情,但它确是建立在真实的事件之上。” 其实,《上帝鸟》中所讲述的大部分的事件都是真实发生过的,但是如何证明这一点呢?无法证明。我们对于约翰·布朗的了解都是从别人的讲述中得来的。麦克布莱德认为:“研究约翰·布朗的历史学家根据一系列标准频繁改变他们书写的目的。这些标准在今天看来可能是不相关的,或者不是那么值得信赖。事实上,决定写什么而忽略什么这一行为本身就让人对所有的非小说写作产生质疑。这样说来,小说也可以更加接近真实。”

对于历史书写和小说的关系,麦克布莱德给出了自己的答案。他的小说《上帝鸟》无疑是对其观点的实践。在该小说中,他将历史和幻想相糅合,立足小人物的视角让我们对约翰·布朗的传奇故事有了新的理解和看法。《上帝鸟》通过小说的形式实现了历史书籍不曾实现的效果。也许只有时间能说明它是否能够成为经典,但就其主题和写作手法而言,《上帝鸟》无疑是2013年最重要的小说之一。【陈妍颖/文】

最年轻的布克奖得主埃莉诺•卡顿及其小说《发光体》

【这是我安排研究生陈妍颖同学写的一篇文章,介绍了本年度最年轻的布克奖得主埃莉诺·卡顿及其获奖作品《发光体》。文章已经在《文艺报》上发表。现转载于此,与大家分享。】

Eleanor Catton

10月15日,2013年度英国布克奖获奖名单新鲜出炉。新西兰小说家埃莉诺·卡顿,凭借其长篇小说《发光体》摘得桂冠。

作为第二个获得此项殊荣的新西兰作家,埃莉诺·卡顿创造了布克奖的两大历史之最—— 年仅28岁的她不仅是史上最年轻的布克奖得主,同时,其长达832页的获奖小说,也成为布克奖史上最长的一部获奖作品。

布克奖评审主席称:“这是一部耀眼、发光的作品,浩瀚却不涣散……我们反复读了三遍,对其进行了深度的挖掘,每一次阅读都会有非凡的收获” 。新西兰总理赞誉到:“这是新西兰人在世界舞台上的一个重大的成就……它证明了埃莉诺·卡顿突出的才能和勤奋。”

埃莉诺·卡顿1985年出生于加拿大,6岁时随家人回到新西兰。曾在坎特伯雷大学学习英语,并在惠灵顿的维多利亚大学现代文学研究所获得硕士学位。2009年,她获颁“年度小说黄金女孩”的称号。目前,卡顿居住在新西兰的奥克兰,并在马努卡理工学院教授创意写作课程。

卡顿的处女作《彩排》,在2008年出版之后便备受好评。此次获奖小说《发光体》是其第二部作品。卡顿于25岁时便开始创作该小说,并于27岁时完成。小说《发光体》能从此次参赛的151部小说作品之中脱颖而出,受到评委的青睐,主要有两方面的原因:一是其小说的结构和技巧,二是其小说的情节和内容。

在结构上,《发光体》最显著的特征便是其与占星术的联系。卡顿将这800多页的史诗巨著按照占星术的原则而安排。其中的人物不仅和十二宫图以及日月(也就是小说题目所指的发光体)相联系,并且按照预定的天体运行轨道彼此互动。

卡顿的这一创意来源于她对星座的兴趣。当她最初打算写一本关于新西兰淘金热的书时,她正好开始接触到星座。当她开始着手写该小说时,卡顿惊喜地发现三颗行星在射手座重合。通过一年的观察,她发现一些星球一直都跟随着彼此。于是她便萌发了把这样现象与小说相结合的想法。因此,卡顿使用了《天文和望远镜》杂志中的图表以及一个叫做虚拟天文馆的软件来安排各种星体的运行。小说中有12个与12星座相对应的“恒星”角色:一个毛利宝石猎人、一个银行家、一个新闻记者、一个旅店老板、一个金矿大亨、一个中国金匠、一个代销商、一个药剂家,一个船务代理商、一个法院职员、一个吸鸦片的淘金工人以及一个牧师。他们是这个故事里固定的恒星星座(每个人的星象图都决定着他的行动以及其作用)。在他们的外围,围绕着其轨道运行的是7个“行星”人物:一个寡妇和一个商贩、一个政客和一个监狱长、一个探矿者和一个妓女,最后还有作为阐释者的侦探穆迪。而这12个恒星角色和7个行星角色都围绕着小说中的“地球”角色:克罗斯比·威尔斯运行。小说中的一系列神秘事件也围绕着这个被谋杀的角色而展开。同时,小说的12部分,每一部分的篇幅均为前一部分的一半,正如月亮由圆到缺的变化过程。

这样的结构安排似乎有些复杂而矫揉造作,但事实上它是与小说主题是紧密联系的。该小说的悖论就在于:人物既定的命运和对自己命运的主宰之间的关系。同时,通过这样的结构安排,卡顿对于什么是小说,小说可以有怎么样的形式进行了探索。如果一个故事的情节已被预先设定,这会改变我们的阅读它方式吗?小说能给人们带来怎样的精神慰藉?小说的意义是存在于个体人物还是结构?​

从情节上来说,《发光体》是一部用传统的维多利亚式的悬疑小说。卡顿融合了威尔基·柯林斯和赫尔曼·麦尔维尔的风格,同时也有所创新。“当你最开始读的时候,你会觉得它像是一个慵懒的怪物,但是随后情节发展逐渐加快,扣人心弦。”评委们认为《发光体》是一部具有灵魂的小说,是一个关于爱,欲望,贪婪和谋杀的故事。小说中美、希望和爱最终战胜了贪婪与丑恶。即使读者完全不懂星相学,他们仍然可以享受这个故事。

小说以19世纪中叶新西兰南部岛屿西海岸的淘金热为背景,讲述了通奸、盗窃、阴谋、非法交易、敲诈以及谋杀等一系列悬而未决的犯罪案件:在1866年1月27日的晚上,刚刚到达新西兰霍基蒂卡淘金城的穆迪闯进了一个酒店的吸烟室。有12个男人正在那儿讨论一系列神秘事件:一个探矿者消失了,一个隐居者死亡了,一个妓女惨遭毒打。所有这些人都彼此相互联系,并与这些事件脱不了干系。小说的第一部分,用将近400页的篇幅回忆了12个人在这一天的经历,错综复杂的事件让他们最终在一个夜间会议上相聚。随着各个人物逐一诉说自己的故事,在新西兰南部岛屿上的霍基蒂卡小镇上所发生的一切也随之明了……

评委会主席罗伯特·麦克法兰认为《发光体》是一部宏伟的巨著。小说“复杂的结构让人惊叹,故事情节引人入胜,对那个充满黄金和贪婪的世界进行了充满富有想象力的描述。”他希望读者们不要因为其篇幅长度而望而却步,因为《发光体》就像是一个金矿,它给予读者的回报是丰厚的。相信每个读者都能从小说纷繁的人物中找到自己熟悉的影子。【作者:陈妍颖】

漫谈爱丽丝·门罗及其短篇小说“寂静”

【爱丽丝·门罗荣获诺贝尔文学奖之后,各种介绍性文章不少。我也给我的学生布置了一篇,让她从分析短篇小说“寂静”(Silence)入手,谈谈门罗的独到之处。作业完成得不错。拿出来与大家分享】

2013年10月10日下午1时(北京时间10月10日19时),瑞典学院宣布本年度诺贝尔文学奖获得者是被誉为“当代短篇小说大师”的加拿大女作家爱丽丝·门罗(Alice Munro)。

Canadian author Alice Munro

诺贝尔文学奖评审委员会认为门罗“以其精致的讲故事的方式著称,表达清晰与心理现实主义是她的写作特色”。门罗的小说世界主要展现普通女性的爱情和家庭生活:“表达清晰”是因为门罗的作品语言朴实,句式简短,故事发展脉络极为清楚;“精致”是因为门罗的作品“轻情节、重细节”,于细微的内心活动的描写就能展现出人物的挣扎与困境。如此,门罗就将故事娓娓道来,为读者提供极大的空间去深思故事中的每一个人物、每一处情节,由此获得更加深刻的人生感悟。

尽管门罗的作品早已蜚声世界文坛,获奖无数,但是对于更加注重长篇小说的中国读者来说,这位曾在上世纪80年代来过中国的短篇小说大师还是相当陌生的。有关门罗的相关译介和研究也相当匮乏。在她的十四部作品中,仅有2004年出版的短篇小说集《逃离》,由翻译家李文俊先生于2009年翻译出版。

作为门罗在中国最知名的作品集,《逃离》由八个短篇小说组成,从不同角度讲述了一群女人的“逃离”经历。《沉寂》就是其中较为经典的一篇。

《沉寂》以全知的视角描绘了四位女性的悲情沉寂。朱丽叶 (Juliet)原本是一位极有名气的主持人,在经历了女儿离家出走、好友离世等变故后,变得愈发否定现有的生活状态,她最后远离公众视线,埋头于书本,湮没于人流之中。女儿Penelope(佩内洛普)原本离家是要到“精神平衡中心”去追求纯粹而崇高的精神生活、远离充满铜臭气的物质世界的,但最终她还是回到了物质生活之中,过上了相夫教子的生活,只是她在母亲的世界中渐渐沉寂陌生。好友Christa(克里斯塔)原本乐观开朗,总是能够开解朱丽叶,但是在病痛的折磨下,她越来越郁郁寡欢,最后病重离世。最后一位女性是诱导着佩内洛普到“精神平衡中心”的琼安,她总是以一副领导者的姿态感化年轻人以宗教信仰为中心,远离世俗生活。但是到了最后,为了生存,琼安只能到商店当一名普普通通的理货员,“精神平衡中心”早已不复存在。

虽然故事情节简单,门罗的用词也不复杂,但是在故事结束之际,读者们会被故事中所营造出来的悲伤而无奈的氛围所感染,不自觉的投入到角色之中,体味到人生的许多不得已。这正是门罗寥寥数笔就勾勒出人物复杂的心理变化的魅力所在。

以朱丽叶为例,她的沉寂过程体现在多个方面。就信仰而言,她从开始的极其渴望自由、张扬个性、不屑宗教到最后成为虔诚的宗教拥趸的过程,门罗只描写了朱丽叶对一个词语的截然不同的态度,spirituality(性灵)。一开始,朱丽叶听到这个词语只会觉得恶心作呕;最后,朱丽叶却总希望人们重视自己的性灵,在宗教中获得从容与平静。就佩内洛普对她的意义而言,门罗只用了几个形容词就将各个阶段朱丽叶的情感跃然纸上。在佩内洛普离家之前,朱丽叶认为女儿给她带来的是delight (欢乐);最初知道女儿离家出走时,朱丽叶也只是哀求地哭出声来;女儿断绝与其所有联系的时候,朱丽叶觉得狂怒;到了最后,朱丽叶接受了女儿离她远去的事实,表面上采取着无所谓的态度,她连有女儿的事情都不愿意再与亲近之人提起,可见哀莫大于心死。读者们随着门罗的精妙用词会深深体会到朱丽叶的悲伤、无可奈何以及最终对生活的妥协。

那么,小说的主题意义到底在于何处?我们应当将小说的标题“沉寂”与小说集的标题“逃离”结合起来一起分析。小说题目 “silence” 一词,不仅是指几位女性的沉寂,更是她们梦想或是幻想的破灭,也是其自我意识的不断衰弱。而文中女性之所以沉寂,是因为她们逃离而不得:朱丽叶与琼安都想逃离平凡生活而终归于平凡;佩内洛普想逃离物质生活而最终被物质所牵绊;克里斯塔想逃离疾病却最终为其所缠。这正是现实生活中女性,或是所有人的无奈。因此,读者们也意识到了生活的无情,只能与角色们一起困于沉寂之中,屈服于世俗生活的要求之下。这种读者与角色的情感互通与互动正是门罗小说的精髓之处。

因此,虽然门罗自己也坦承其写作风格并不华丽,但是她的创作却胜在用词精确,在不多的篇幅中充分运用平实的语言描绘了普通人的小事,却又极其细致的捕捉到了每一位角色的每一丝心理变化,使得读者切身体会到了许多共同的人生困境,在小说中也体味着自己的经历。文字平实而意义深远,这正是瑞典学院将门罗赞誉为“当代短篇小说大师”的原因之一吧。【作者:韩晓萌】

【RT】Alice Munro: Her subject is ‘simply life itself’

The following is a repost from The Washington Post:

Alice Munro: Her subject is ‘simply life itself’

By Ben Dolnick, Friday, October 11, 12:40 AM

Alice Munro wins Nobel Prize for literature: Alice Munro, “a master of the contemporary short story,” receives the prestigious award from the Royal Swedish Academy. The Canadian is the 13th female literature laureate in the 112-year history of the Nobel Prizes.

In describing Alice Munro, the Canadian novelist Margaret Atwood once wrote: “She’s the kind of writer about whom it is often said — no matter how well known she becomes — that she ought to be better known.”

Atwood’s dictum is about to be put to the test: Munro, the revered 82-year-old Canadian writer, has just won the Nobel Prize.

In awarding her the prize — which comes with 8 million Swedish kronor, or about $1.2 million — the committee has made official what Munro’s legions of fans have been saying for years: She is the master of the contemporary short story.

Fans won’t be surprised to hear that Munro, famously modest, responded by asking that the attention be immediately shared. “When I began writing there was a very small community of Canadian writers and little attention was paid by the world,” she said. “Now Canadian writers are read, admired and respected around the globe. I’m so thrilled to be chosen as this year’s Nobel Prize for Literature recipient. I hope it fosters further interest in all Canadian writers. I also hope that this brings further recognition to the short-story form.”

In recent years, the Nobel Prize in Literature has become an occasion, at least in North America, for sheepish shrugs and head-scratching. Herta Müller, Mo Yan, Jean-Marie Gustave Le Cl éz io — for many of us, the Nobels have become doubly educational: We simultaneously learn of an author’s existence and find out that we ought to have been reading him or her all along.

This year, then, came as something of a relief. Those rumored to be under consideration — Haruki Murakami, Philip Roth, Munro — were all household names, more likely to be found on our bookshelves than in our crossword puzzles.

And even among those authors, none inspired quite the reverence among readers — and writers — that Munro does. Mention to a serious bibliophile that you like her and the conversation will shift to a solemn, almost embarrassingly private register, as if you’d interrupted cocktail party chatter to reveal a family secret.

This love seems always to be revealed with a certain hesitancy. This has mostly to do with the fact that Munro is explicitly a writer of short stories. Until she retired this year, her collections had been issuing from Canada as steadily as weather bulletins.

Beginning with “Dance of the Happy Shades” in 1968 and ending with “Dear Life” in 2013, her career has been a shower of stories. Thus, there is no single mountain peak — no “Beloved,” no “American Pastoral” — to which one can assuredly point and say: Read this and you’ll understand. Ask Munro fans which book to start with, and they’ll say, “Well, have you read ‘The Beggar Maid’? Oh, but what about ‘Open Secrets’? Or maybe ‘Hateship, Friendship’?” Pretty soon your suitcase is brimming with her essential works.

Munro’s publishers have tried, at various points, to cull the field. Everyman’s Library published a handsome volume of her selected stories in 2006. Vintage had done the same in 1997, and then again, more sparingly, in 2005.

Prize committees have done their parts to introduce her to the world, as well: She won the Man Booker International Prize in 2009, the National Book Critics Circle Award in 1998 and enough Giller prizes that she decided a few years ago to take herself out of the running.

But her books are just as much at home on the favorite paperbacks table as on the dais. She’s an author you read on the train, you read in bed, you read in happiness, you read in grief. She is, perhaps more than any writer since Chekhov (with whom she is constantly, and aptly, compared) an author whose subject is simply life itself.

In her second book, “Lives of Girls and Women” (1971), she wrote something like a credo for those who cherish this type of writing: “People’s lives, in Jubilee as elsewhere, were dull, simple, amazing, and unfathomable — deep caves paved with kitchen linoleum.”

Even among writers — a notoriously discontented lot — there was none of the typical carping or ­second-guessing going on Thursday. In fact, the news of her prize set off a virtual round of toasts.

Among the revelers was the short-story writer Jim Shepard, who said: “I imagine fiction writers everywhere today are celebrating the Nobel Committee having gotten it exactly right. There’s probably no one alive who’s better at the craft of the short story, or who has done more to revolutionize the use of time in that form, the result often being a 20-page story that demonstrates the breadth and scope of a novel.”

And Elizabeth Strout, author of “Olive Kitteridge”: “Alice Munro taught me things about writing that are immeasurable; she has dared in a quiet, steady way, to go to places of deep honesty. I will always remember the first time I read her story ‘Royal Beatings.’ I thought: ‘Look what she did — she has told the truth completely.’ And reading her story ‘White Dump’ for the first time — I remember that, too. I thought, ‘Look what she does, she goes wherever she wants, and I go with her.’ The authority she brings to the page is just lovely.”

Jonathan Franzen wrote in a 2005 paean: “Reading Munro puts me in that state of quiet reflection in which I think about my own life: about the decisions I’ve made, the things I’ve done and haven’t done, the kind of person I am, the prospect of death. She is one of the handful of writers, some living, most dead, whom I have in mind when I say that fiction is my religion.”

It’s somehow incongruous to imagine, but Munro will travel to Stockholm in December, climb onto the stage, and give a gracious, fitting speech.

Literature is one of those realms in which giving out prizes can seem not merely dubious but positively obtuse. Books like Munro’s are so deeply personal and idiosyncratic that it feels like a violation to subject them to the crude business of committee meetings and PR releases; you might as well storm a butterfly den with a klieg light.

But today, and from now on, that den will be a good deal more crowded. Alice Munro is a Nobel laureate, and the only natural response is delight. And then, of course, once the euphoria of justice done has passed, to pay the tribute that is beyond the power of any prize committee, even the one in Stockholm, to issue: to read her.

Dolnick is the author of “At the Bottom of Everything.”

On the Writer’s Elusive Self

【转帖自:The Washington Post

Joyce Carol Oates Interviews Herself

By Joyce Carol Oates, Published: September 13

All right, let’s cut to it — our audience, curiosity whetted by the ubiquitous social media, wants avidly to know: What is the most embarrassing thing that has happened to you lately?

Do you mean as a “writer” — or just more generally?

 
 
Don’t be circumspect! Interest in you, at least minimal interest, derives from your being a “writer.”

Well — I was in the grocery store yesterday, in the dairy section, when a woman who’d been staring at me quizzically asked, “Are you some kind of writer?” Vaguely, I shook my head no, as if I might not have heard the question, and eased away without glancing back . . .

And then?

And then someone who knew me breezed by saying in a loud voice, “Hello, Joyce!” — and the woman must have overheard . . .

That is embarrassing! Denying your own writer-self, and even as the cock began to crow, someone comes along and outs you! Is this some kind of absurd modesty?

I could not explain to the woman: “I am not ‘Joyce Carol Oates’ right now, but a shopper in a grocery store. And the dairy section is freezing.”

If police had arrived and demanded your I.D., you’d have had to confess — what?

My driver’s license, passport, social security — are all in the name “Joyce Carol Smith.”

Why not “Oates”? Continue reading

In Bleeding Edge, Thomas Pynchon takes on technology, 9-11 and so much more

【转帖自USA TODAY: Don Oldenburg, Special for USA TODAY 6:06 a.m. EDT September 14, 2013】

by Thomas Pynchon

Thomas Pynchon’s latest period piece, Bleeding Edge (4 stars out of 4) takes place in Manhattan’s “Silicon Alley” in the spring of 2001, during the calm between the dotcom collapse on Wall Street and the terrorist atrocities of 9/11.

Who better to fictionally address that surreal time than the author who, 40 years ago, in his masterpiece Gravity’s Rainbow, penned the opening line, “A screaming comes across the sky….”

Pynchon’s latest detective caper revolves around the picaresque adventures of Maxine Tarnow, young Jewish Upper West Side mother of two elementary-school boys, sort of divorced from her ex. She is a wisecracking, fearless beauty who runs her own uncertified anti-fraud agency and carries a purse heavy with a Beretta.

Like Pynchon’s past gumshoes (Oedipa Maas in The Crying of Lot 49), Maxine is quite the character. Her clientele of low-stakes hustlers elevates quickly when she investigates a suspicious computer-security company called hashslingrz. Its insidious geek billionaire founder Gabriel Ice may be skimming millions to fund Arab terrorists. But why?

That mystery opens the floodgates for the kinds of offbeat characters Pynchon is known for: Russian mobsters, a foot-fetish hacker, a black-ops killer, a self-made Zen master, a sleazebag pornographer, a professional scent sniffer—all while Maxine is yearning to be Angela Lansbury “dealing with class tickets.”

Of course, there are Pynchonesque names—Eric Outfield, Nick Windust, Conkling Speedwell, Bernie Madoff (oh, right, he’s non-fiction, but in here briefly because, hmmm, what’s that Maxine investigates?).

The Internet is a core character, too, from the underground Deep Web where online criminals hang, to the brilliant DeepArcher (think “departure”) alternative-reality, to alpha hackers who think that destroying the Internet means saving humanity. In fact, Pynchon’s powerful reasoning concerning the Internet should be cauterized into warning labels for websites, blogs, Facebook, Twitter and all the rest of it.

But Pynchon is no troglodyte. While embedding the book with concerns about the proliferation of technology, violence, media-saturated consumer culture and omniscient bureaucracy, he also fills it with telling mass-cultural references — from Kenan and Kel, Jennifer Aniston’s “Friends”-circa hair and Dragonball Z to Ally McBeal, eight-megabyte flash drives and the Macarena. “Nostalgia lurks,” as Pynchon writes..

As he often does, the author targets a grim, dark zeitgeist like some truth-seeking Stinger missile. He remarkably handles that disturbing day of Sept. 11, tilting the story and everyone in it, stunning the reader into an alternative strange-times reality where Pynchon comfortably dwells. Yet he spends no more than a couple of pages on the actual attacks, reflecting instead on its effect on his characters.

The truth is, Pynchon writes like no one else. He somehow injects love and humanity as the antidote to the dehumanization he fears and obsesses about.

He convincingly warp-speeds from one setting and characters to another within the same sentence. Even in his hyper-narrative ways, he remains the master of phrasing — cool, hip, explosive narrative fragments overstuffed with meaning.

Readers scarred by Gravity’s Rainbow, still muttering “incomprehensible,” will find this lucid dream far more accessible. This is not a start-and-then-put-down novel. It’s an exceptional literary novel that’s nonetheless a linear, joyous read set in extraordinary times.

Look, either you buy into Pynchon or you don’t.

If you’re willing to enter this bleeding-edge (def: more advanced and riskier than cutting-edge) novel, figure to come out the back page a different reader, probably better off.

At the end of the book’s advance proof sent to reviewers, the “About The Author” page is blank except for “TK.” That’s newsroom and printers’ lingo for “to come,” as in, “more content coming.” For Pynchon fans, it’s what you hope for — more heights of literary experience TK.