Like many writers with a reputation for difficulty, Pynchon’s books are often screamingly funny. I asked several of my esteemed colleagues to name their favorite scene from Pynchon’s oeuvre. You're invited to join them and post your favorite scene from Pynchon’s previous novels in the comments section below. - Jim Ruland
Sean Carswell: My favorite Pynchon? Mason and Dixon smoking pot with George Washington while Washington's slave sits around making master jokes. Tyrone Slothrop escaping in a hot air balloon and fending of Major Marvy's Mothas with custard pies. Tyrone Slothrop dressed up as the pig-themed superhero stealing hash from Harry Truman's windowpane.
Louis Gallo: It's been quite a while since I've read V, I didn't like Vineland much at all, but two scenes stick out for me from Gravity's Rainbow: 1. The utterly gross, disgusting shit-eating scenes. 2. The sudden disappearance of Slothrop from the novel altogether, except for the sound of his harmonica in the distance. That bit was fantastic. Main character just disappears!!! Into the Preterite, I assume.
Susan Henderson: The scene that sticks out for me is easy. It's Esther's nose job in V. The doctor who does the surgery is an old war veteran who knows first-hand about the fraternity of freaks who have suffered deforming injuries in war. He's a rough man with old-fashioned techniques for plastic surgery; and there's Esther on the day of her surgery, medicated numb but not unconscious. And the whole scene is gruesome and oddly sexual. There's a line the doctor says as he's sawing and snapping bones about how frail we all are. God, it's wonderful, and you're not at all expecting what happens when she returns to his office for post-op, all wild-eyed and bandaged and turned on.
Dan Kaplan: Here's one that strikes me. In The Crying of Lot 49, Oedipa Maas, in her quest to understand the operations and verify the existence of the mail-distribution organization Trystero, wanders into Golden Gate Park, where she happens onto "a circle of children in their nightclothes, who told her they were dreaming the gathering. But that the dream was really no different from being awake, because in the mornings when they got up they felt tired, as if they'd been up most of the night. When their mothers thought they were out playing they were really curled in cupboards of neighbors' houses, in platforms up in trees, in secretly-hollowed nests inside hedges, sleeping, making up for these hours." Such a simple, profound piece of oddity--Oedipa happening onto others' collective dream, which is apparently her own reality--that perpetuates the blurring of what does and doesn't exist, is "real" or imagined in the novel. Amplifying the spookiness is that these are displaced, spectral children who are on the outskirts of safety, hiding in surprising places and deceiving those who love them. Disturbing. Love it.
Carolyn Kellogg: So much of Pynchon's work is ridiculous wordplay to the extreme -- say, the shrink Dr. Hilarius in The Crying of Lot 49, paranoid and locked up while the police come to arrest him -- that it's easy to overlook how prescient he is. In that book, published in 1966, there's a bar near Yoyodyne populated with engineer-type conspiracy theorists listening to Stockhausen on the jukebox; Saturdays are live electronic music nights. Ridiculous and futuristic, maybe: but since the 1990s, I've been going to that bar. We've all been there. It's at the bar that protagonist Oedipa first sees a drawing that looks like a muted trumpet. It may symbolize a secret mail system, which might imply many other things (then again, it might not). I had the symbol tattooed on my wrist. Some people recognize it. One day I was at Trader Joe's and the checkout guy asked me about it. "It's from a book," I said vaguely, not wanting to sound too smarty-pants. He asked about the book and I told him. "Yeah, I knew it," he said, smiling. I asked what he thought of The Crying of Lot 49, but he hadn't read it; I was the third person who'd come to his register that week with the same tattoo. Either I'm a member of a vast conspiracy (so secret that I'm unaware of it), or there are legions of Pynchon fans out there, all wearing our affiliation on our skin.
John Leary: V, I read in 1994, when I was "stationed" in Vietnam. V is a book about paranoia, and I loved it, and it spoke to me deeply, it seemed. Then a few years after I left Vietnam I read in the newspaper that Lariam, the anti-malarial medication I was taking in Vietnam, had as one of its side effects paranoia. So, that didn't exactly ruin the book for me, but it maybe lost a little resonance. I no longer really want to go to Malta, for example.
Scott O’Connor: I’m a big fan of a sequence not far into V., where the two protagonists, Benny Profane and Herbert Stencil, cross paths for the first time in the NYC sewer system. Profane has gotten work with a shabby band of alligator hunters, all armed with 12-gauge shotguns and unreliable flashlights, navigating the narrow refuse pipes far below Manhattan. Stencil, following his own plotline (and the title character of the book), has also journeyed down into the sewers--disguised, unfortunately, as an alligator. In the course of Profane’s pursuit of the gator, we hear the troubled bureaucratic history of the alligator patrol, the story of the patrol’s boss, brief glimpses of other guys on the squad, and the hair-raising legend of a Depression-era Catholic priest who tried (and failed gruesomely) to bring religion to the rats of the very sewer system Profane is stumbling through. All this within the 20-odd pages of Chapter Five, and told from the perspectives of (among others) Profane, Stencil, Father Fairing, even a couple of the catechized rats in question. Profane finally catches up to Stencil (in what must be one hell of a convincing gator costume). Gunshots ensue. The density of imagination in Pynchon sequences like this always remind me of Silver-Age Fantastic Four and Justice League comics: each panel is so packed with action and ideas—a fight scene, lines of overlapping dialogue, a villainous diatribe, subplots lurking in the background—that it threatens to become completely overwhelming when, at the last second, it propels you off into the next panel, and the next and the next, careening hellbent to the end of the book. More bang for your buck, really, with this kind of stuff.
Karen Palmer: Pynchon himself dismissed 1965's The Crying of Lot 49, saying, "I seem to have forgotten most of what I thought I'd learned up till then." But the book -- witty, sly, and absurd -- offers the melancholy pleasure of prescience. In an early scene Pynchon's heroine, Oedipa Maas, encounters the Peter Pinguid Society, a group of right-of-the-Birchers, drip-dry-suited Yoyodyne engineers whose Civil War hero commanded the Confederate man-of-war "Disgruntled." In 1863, Pinguid (Dubya) plans an attack on San Francisco (Iraq), to open a second front for the war (on terror). Meanwhile, Russia dispatches its Far East Fleet, hoping to discourage Britain and France from aiding the Confederacy. The "Disgruntled" may have sighted one of the Russian ships (WMD); shots may have been fired (9/11); some vessel or other may have been sunk (Mission Accomplished) . . .
Rolf Potts: My strongest impression from his writing comes from the only book of his I read, V, where he's talking about how Benny Profane rides the subway and is weak with lust because there are so many pretty girls everywhere. I was like 21 when I read that, and it seemed so true. Still does, on spring days in NY or Paris.
Danna Sides: I loved Gravity's Rainbow even though experiencing the book was very much like chasing a rabbit down wormhole after wormhole, which leads to yet another wormhole. I enjoyed thinking about the mythological and occult connections conflated with world events, and how literally everybody and everything was in there: Andrew Jackson to Hansel & Gretel; genocide to seriously twisted sex. If I had to chose, I'd say I especially like the flashback of when Slothrop loses his blues harp down the loo and the Orpheus/descent into the Underworld allusions. I also enjoyed his oblique commentary on genocide: Herero/Jews. Lots of humor and serious rage right under the surface. His brain is like Google: his associations are limitless, fluid, wild interconnections galore. I remember thinking his prose made my brain tingle like when I drink a little too much champagne.
Benjamin Weissman: The bar scene in V with the bosom nipple spigots has never left me.
Antoine Wilson: My favorite/most memorable Pynchon moment is probably the visit with Washington in Mason & Dixon, where Washington is smoking hemp, being entertained by the proto-Sammy-Davis-Jr. slave, and Martha brings in the munchies.