Pynchon’s second, in what is I believe a trilogy of gum shoe novels, replaces the hippy from Inherent Vice with a Jewish fraud investigator. Our protagonist inhabits an even more peculiar period of human history than the previous: she lives in Brookyln right before the World Trade Center collapses. Maxine, our heroine, is a little down and out. Separated from her husband, living with 2 children, and surprisingly profiting from being unaccredited by her profession’s judges, she begins an investigation into a somewhat shady cyber-security firm. It’s here that the novel begins.
Inherent Vice is a slice of psychedelica, L.A. In the sixties and the story begins and ends with a punch and a point that meanders through archetypical hippy tropes before delivering a message on the necessity of evil. Bleeding Edge on the other hand avoids Pynchon’s most beloved structure: Lear. Gravity’s Rainbow and Inherent Vice are both novels in which the protagonist ascends into madness and like Lear comes back down again. In Bleeding Edge the protagonist suffers from fewer loses of reality, rather she lives in a digital age in which reality is ever increasingly lost. The novel is full of allusion to video games. Doom comes out on gameboy, a mysterious deep web virtual reality promises a world “with graphics better than Final Fantasy X.”, and the mansions of Montauk share connections with lost government projects in time travel. It’s the later that brings up a consistent theme in Pynchon.
Gabriel Ice is the novel’s antagonist. A nerd who has given himself over to a world of government surveillance and secret projects. However, Mr. Ice remains an enigma for all of the novel. Maxine’s paranoid investigations into Mr. Ice’s world reveals September 11th tie ins, money laundered using Arabic financial instruments, and a potential link between Isreali covert ops and the NSA. But these wandering are all a product of class. Like Pynchon’s other novels we are in the hands of an unknown, but that vast other we in capitalism confront is simply the great levels of other the upper class produce. Gabriel Ice’s movements through the security apparatus and his apparent disregard for even organized crime means he produces huge wafts of the fog Pynchon loves to wallow in. Like the Hedgehog in the Russian animation beloved by one of the novel’s mobsters, that exact loss of scale, the experience of being lower class produces a necessary evil over story on those above us. It is perhaps one of the stranger experiences of class that great stratification mixed with an absence of transparency means those in power are often shrouded with the envy, hatred, speculation, & most of all a peculiar sense of other. While in Inherent Vice we end the novel with a great deal of known, and in the end a pretty powerful moral punch, Bleeding Edge is rather, somewhat like 9/11, one persistent patch of fog.
The novel in other words doesn’t resolve difficulties, but rather trivializes them as if the text is one giant bong hit in a GTA game. And btw GTA is name checked in this novel as is Hideo Kojima, the internet, CSS tables, Metal Gear Solid is given a lengthy treatise, Echo and the Bunnymen play in the background, and Zima is yesterday’s drink. It is this archeology of pop culture so close to home that might be Pynchon’s biggest point. We live in an era in which literature is a construct. Fine authors try to sling words with contemporary judges decide are canon. The result is a good deal of literature that omits the everyday. Pop art essentially stopped it’s chronicles around coca cola and the flinstones, Pynchon shows that the era of laptops, ps2s, and rapid web expansion is a more than worthy home of meaning. This isn’t to say Pynchon is being fascist in his obsession with pop culture, rather it feels rather frank. The New York Bleeding Edge covers is one only 5 years old. However it is covered in as much historical detail as a film set (and Pynchon has claimed film as a muse). In this it is almost shocking to hear web design conversations covered so frankly and so many copyrighted corporate slogans produced with aplomb. It is refreshing to see such contemporary subjects as it reminds of the shock value pop art contained in it’s genesis and is telling of the way we have ingested the 60s and 50s as ideal periods for meaning. It’s a bit like Donnie Darko in a way, but it is also a mirror that nears infinite reflection: Pynchon chronicles the exact web sayyid hipsters likely to buy into the idea of an established author chronicling them, and that tension gives the text new life.
Bleeding Edge is part of a series of mystery novels intended to give the hard boiled fiction of yesteryear new life, but instead what it does most of is remind of how much pop culture has changed in such a remarkably short time, and in that it says more about the state of things than a novel intended for audiences of any time.