The Crying of Lot 49

The Crying of Lot 49 by Thomas Pynchon

 My shrink, pursued by Israelis, has gone mad: my husband, on LSD, gropes like a child further and further into the rooms and endless rooms of the elaborate candy house of himself and away, hopelessly away, from what has passed, I was hoping forever, for love; my one extra-marital fella has eloped with a depraved fifteen-year-old; my best guide to the Trystero has taken a Brody. Where am I?”

This whole book is a pretty hallucinogenic, stream of consciousness, lucid dream-like stumble upon what may or may not be a great conspiracy… But to start at the beginning, as is the norm, the ‘Lot 49’ of the title is the number of a lot in an auction that occurs at the very end of the book. The lead character, a one Mrs Oedipa Mass (a name that makes me reconsider my somewhat cop-out naming decisions in my own work here) is present at this auction as she has unexpectedly been made executor (executrix?) of an ex-boyfriend’s will and testament, and his items are being sold. The lot in question, number 49 – the significance of which many still disagree upon, is a collection of stamps that may or may not have been deliberately misprinted.

There are a lot of ‘ifs’ and ‘maybes’ in the content of this book, largely stemming from the fact that it is never made clear if Oedipa is hallucinating more-or-less the entire book, if she has been set up all along, if she’s simply paranoid and imaging connections where there are only coincidences or if she really has stumbled upon a secret, anarchist, alternative postal system hidden for hundreds of years. As she attempts to untangle the assets of her deceased former lover whilst floating around the state of California, sometimes in a state of paranoia, sometimes drunk, often hit upon, once engaging upon an affair, and once virtually attempting suicide by proxy – the unravelling of the postal mystery becomes her chief concern.

However, as she loses those around her: her husband, shrink, lawyer variously to war crime-induced insanity, young Anglophile nymphettes and prescribed LSD, the truth becomes ever more obscured both from Oedipa and the reader. The aforementioned stream-of-consciousness style of writing employed (which oddly seems to become less convoluted as the book goes on, despite the thickening of the plot), the numerous pop culture references and other such devices used by Pynchon have led to many describing it as an important example of postmodern fiction. Pynchon himself considered the book a failure, but I think it’s pretty good. Highly recommended reading.

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