The Crying of West 79th Street
Reality comes undone in Thomas Pynchon's novel about New York in the early aughts
Bless an author with a long enough career, and even the most outcast elements can get a second chance. In Thomas Pynchon’s encyclopedic, pull-out-the-stops first novel, V. (1963), the Upper West Side merits only a withering dismissal:
This was on Broadway in the 80’s, which is not the Broadway of Show Biz, or even a broken heart for every light on it. Uptown was a bleak district with no identity, where a heart never does anything so violent or final as break: merely gets increased tensile, compressive, shear loads piled on it bit by bit every day till eventually these and its own shudderings fatigue it.
Fifty—fifty!—years later, Bleeding Edge, his latest, situates its heroine, Maxine Tarnow, and much of its action firmly on the “Yupper West Side.” Though the area retains a rep as “a vague sort of uptown Dubuque,” Pynchon’s affection for Maxine means the neighborhood gets his signature treatment, three parts laughing gas to one part subterranean profundity.
Present in every scene, Maxine is a single mom and a quasi PI—in Pynchon’s words, a “Certified Fraud Examiner gone rogue.” A case involving certain shadowy transactions leads her into Matrix territory, first to a virtual world known as DeepArcher, a sort of Second Life avant la lettre, then to the Deep Web, the “endless junkyard” of the Internet, beyond the reach of search engines, and toward a “horizon between coded and codeless,” where even the dead might live again. But it’s the living, breathing details of Upper West Side life, circa 2001, that give Bleeding Edge its humor and its heart. In