Should I finish Gravity’s Rainbow?

It seems like only yesterday I was debating whether to finish 1Q84, and here I am again, wondering the same thing about Thomas Pynchon’s Gravity’s Rainbow.

It’s a 760 page monster, and to call it opaque is an understatement. It’s gloriously, unabashedly weird and surreal, an acid trip stream of consciousness that’s often entertaining and occasionally laugh-out-loud funny. It reminds me a bit of David Foster Wallace‘s Infinite Jest, which I loved.

Unfortunately, Rainbow is unapologetically hard to follow. It skips from setting to setting, narrator to narrator like a Ritalin-soaked teenager with a TV remote, only occasionally deigning to inform me where it’s landed. I keep up barely half of the time, and it leaves me exhausted.

It’s widely regarded as one of the great works of American literature, so I’m reluctant to give up without a fight. Fans offer encouraging advice to struggling readers like me: it’s ok if you don’t get everything, focus on the stuff you do get, and don’t give up too early.

Still, I’m struggling something fierce. I’m over 150 pages in, but that’s just a fifth of the way. Have you read it? Should I keep going? Any words of wisdom?


15 thoughts on “Should I finish Gravity’s Rainbow?

  1. It is on my list of books-to-try-again – I dropped it early too… I had the same trouble with a hundred years of solitude and catch 22. after several goes at each they are now some of my favorite books.  via Google+

  2. I read it when it first came out. I remember struggling, hoping that "any page now," it was going to get interesting. It never did, and I regretted wasting the time on it. I would have been better off practicing piano scales. I'm not a fast reader, and my tastes run to the more concrete anyway, but I have learned that if n % of the way through a book, if I still don't get it, I abandon it. n gets smaller as I get older. via Google+

  3. Thanks guys!

    Also entertaining: I asked on Twitter and Facebook too. G+ has three nos and a maybe, Twitter has two yeses, Facebook has nothing. Clearly statistically significant proof of…something. via Google+

  4. Going to add a late keep reading to this group of comments. Somethings you are not going to get and that's OK. Just get into the flow of the text.

    It starts to really kick in about 100 pages in, which I attribute to attuning yourself to the text. via Google+

  5. I forgot that I wanted to respond to this and then remembered when I was browsing in a bookstore today. I read Gravity's Rainbow as part of a college English course on Nabokov and Pynchon. The professor's lectures were excellent and the discussions were well facilitated. This made it much easier for me to push through the less accessible parts of the novel, but what really kept me going was an incredible stroke of good fortune: I happened to be enrolled in Real Analysis that same semester, and when I was plugging away at GR I was also learning how to derive the fundamentals of calculus. All of Pynchon's math metaphors just started popping out at me left and right, and my head practically exploded with excitement. There's obviously a lot of different ways to read GR, but this was the key that unlocked it for me. So, if you're struggling with the novel and you're mathematically inclined (or, like me, not particularly inclined but curious), you might consider taking some time to get some calculus back in your head and then give it another go. via Google+

  6. Part 1 is dreadfully slow, but it does pick up in part 2. Whether this is objectively true or not is up for debate; maybe I just grew accustomed to the style. A second read would probably reveal it as a mix of both factors. Either way, part 2 is shorter and easier to follow. Read through there at least.

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