Previewing Thomas Pynchon’s Bleeding Edge

While the Day of Dialog panel “Getting (Re)Acquainted with the Best Voices in Fiction Today” includes several top writers back in business after a few years’ absence, the reclusive Thomas Pynchon won’t be among them. Too bad. As you’ve likely heard, his new novel, Bleeding Edge (Penguin Pr: Penguin Group (USA). Sept. 2013. 496p. ISBN 9781594204234. CD: Penguin Audio), is coming this fall, four years after Inherent Vice’s “whip-smart, psychedelic-bright language… manage[d] to convey the Sixties—except the Sixties were never really like this. This is Pynchon’s world, and it’s brilliant.”

Or so I said in my LJ review. Pynchon’s newest opens in 2001, in the teetering world after the dot-com bust but before 9/11, and it’s billed as a “historical romance of New York in the early days of the Internet.” Actually, it sounds more like another delicious high-lit plundering of thrillerish content to get at our essential uneasiness and the rotten floorboards beneath society’s feet. The protagonist is Upper West Sider Maxine Tarnow, a mom with two sons and an all-but-gone spouse, who manages an unlicensed fraud investigation business that has her toting a Beretta and hacking others’ bank accounts. Then her peek into a computer security firm’s finances leads to a lot of dead bodies.

Clearly, there’s evil to ferret out and colorful characters to delineate, including billionaire CEOs, start-up bloggers, and Russian Mafia. But the real reading pleasure will doubtless come from Pynchon’s fierce look at off-the-rails social forces—not to mention an indelible sense of time and place. The Upper West Side Pynchon revealed on his first page is my Upper West Side—“kids, parents, and nannies wheeled and afoot are heading in all difference directions,” as “unhoused people sleep in doorways” and “runners are bouncing up and down at the curb.” I do wonder about the “cops in coffee shops…dealing with bagel deficiencies”; we have the bagel deficiencies but not a lot of cops. But when the pear trees are in bloom, they are, as Pynchon says, full of unearthly light.

It’s a scene meant to be disturbed, and it has been disturbed; Pynchon can show us what happened. Meanwhile, his novel is set for publication on September 17, with a promotional book video and a playlist planned, though this book will sell itself to the right audience. While galleys aren’t available yet for review (I quote from the first page, recently made available), perhaps you now have a taste of what’s to come.

Barbara Hoffert About Barbara Hoffert

Barbara Hoffert (, @BarbaraHoffert on Twitter) is Editor, LJ Prepub Alert; past chair of the Materials Selection Committee of the RUSA (Reference and User Services Assn.) division of the American Library Association; and past president, treasurer, and awards chair of the National Book Critics Circle.