On the Edge with Thomas Pynchon

Thomas Pynchon’s new novel, Bleeding Edge (Penguin Pr. ISBN 9781594204234. $27.95), is set for publication in September, and already reviews are passing before my eyes. So I’ll give you my take on this heady, ground-shifting novel, which explores early Internet angst and the buildup to 9/11 to give us a world on the verge. Interestingly, despite the on-the-edge setting and language, the novel wraps with a core sense of human values. Truly your most important reading for the fall.

Once again, Pynchon delivers an extraordinary sense of the zeitgeist. As Bleeding Edge opens, Maxine Tarnow—sort of separated from staid Horst—gets her sons off to school in an artfully rendered Upper West Side directly before 9/11. A fraud investigator who’s lost her license, which makes for scuzzy clients but lets her pack a Beretta, Maxine is on the case when filmmaker friend Reg contacts her about his suspicions regarding hashslingrz, the computer security firm he’s been asked to document. Maxine’s investigations lead her to hashslingrz monomaniac Gabriel Ice; Igor, a Russian Mafioso with a conscience and two rap-spouting sidekicks named Misha and Grisha; government agent Windust, a murderer and torturer with whom Maxine exchanges information and a carnal moment; and many more. Then there’s friend Vyrva, whose husband has helped create the virtual escape site DeepArcher, emblem of the turn-of-the-21st-century techno-angst, -greed, and –possibility that is the book’s thematic context. VERDICT A theory is voiced about CIA involvement in 9/11 to get funding from anti-Islamic sources. But 9/11 is not ultimately the point. Nor is Maxine’s page-turning, occasionally dense, high art–low art mystery trail. What matters is the creation of a time, a place, and authentic, deeply connected characters, all heightened by Pynchon’s darkly hilarious way with language and located on the “bleeding edge” as the world changed.

Barbara Hoffert About Barbara Hoffert

Barbara Hoffert (bhoffert@mediasourceinc.com, @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.


  1. Chris says:

    Sounds interesting. Can’t wait to read it.

    Barbara, how do you like Maxine Tarnow as a protagonist? A couple years ago, I posted a comment somewhere discussing Pynchon that I thought it would be cool if he made another attempt to write from a female point of view, which he had only done once in his career, with Oedipa Maas in The Crying of Lot 49. Probably Pynchon never saw my comment – who knows if he even googles himself? – but whether he did or not, I’m glad he’s attempted another heroine. I still feel that Oedipa is his most sympathetic and fully realized character – the rest of his characters have been cartoons and cardboard cutouts, which is what naysaying critic James Wood mainly dislikes about his fiction (not entirely without justification).

  2. John says:

    I’ve read a review copy of Bleeding Edge too and Chris, you’re absolutely on the money. Maxine is (to me) the most interesting and well-crafted character of his career; a little reminiscent of Oedipa but realised by an author who now has decades more experience of life, writing, etc.