Thomas Pynchon (1937-)
b. May 8, 1937, Glen Cove, Long Island, N.Y., U.S.
American novelist and short-story writer whose works combine black humour and fantasy to depict human alienation in the chaos of modern society.
After earning his B.A. in English from Cornell University in 1958, Pynchon spent a year in Greenwich Village writingshort stories and working on a novel. In 1960 he was hired as a technical writer for Boeing Aircraft Corporation inSeattle, Wash. Two years later he decided to leave the companyand write full-time. In 1963 Pynchon won the Faulkner Foundation Award for his first novel, V. (1963), a whimsical, cynically absurd tale of a middle-aged Englishman's search for "V," an elusive, supernatural adventuress appearing in various guises at critical periods in European history. In his next book, The Crying of Lot 49 (1966), Pynchon described a woman's strange quest to discover the mysterious, conspiratorial Tristero System in a futuristic world of closed societies. The novel serves as a condemnation of modern industrialization.
Pynchon's Gravity's Rainbow (1973) is a tour de force in 20th-century literature. In exploring the dilemmas of human beings in the modern world, the story, which is set in an area of post-World War II Germany called "the Zone," centres on the wanderings of an American soldier who is one of many odd characters looking for a secret V-2 rocket that will supposedly break through the Earth's gravitational barrier when launched. The narrative is filled with descriptions of obsessive and paranoid fantasies, ridiculous and grotesque imagery, and esoteric mathematical and scientific language. For his efforts Pynchon received the National Book Award, and many critics deemed Gravity's Rainbow a visionary, apocalyptic masterpiece. Pynchon's next novel, Vineland, was not published until 1990.
Of his few short stories, most notable are "Entropy" (1960), a neatly structured tale in which Pynchon first uses extensive technical language and scientific metaphors, and "The Secret Integration" (1964), a story in which Pynchon explores small-town bigotry and racism. The collection Slow Learner (1984) contains "The Secret Integration."