Unless you want to count Slow Learner, a collection of his juvenilia that appeared a couple of years back, Thomas Pynchon’s new novel, Vineland, marks the first time we’ve heard from this reclusive novelist since Gravity’s Rainbow screamed across the sky in 1973. And what an event that was: if his earlier novels, V. (1963) and The Crying of Lot 49 (1967), won Pynchon admission into the postmodern canon, Gravity’s Rainbow certified him, in many academic eyes, as the premier metafictionist of the day. Edward Mendelson’s verdict was representative: “This is certainly the most important novel to be published in English in the past thirty years, and it bears all the lineaments of greatness.”

Certainly it bore all the lineaments that the most au courant academic critics considered essential ingredients of the Great Postmodern American Novel: like its...


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