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Against the Day: A Novel | [Thomas Pynchon]

Against the Day: A Novel

This novel spans the period between the Chicago World's Fair of 1893 and the years just after World War I. With a worldwide disaster looming just a few years ahead, it is a time of unrestrained corporate greed, false religiosity, moronic fecklessness, and evil intent in high places. No reference to the present day is intended or should be inferred.
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Publisher's Summary

"Spanning the period between the Chicago World's Fair of 1893 and the years just after World War I, this novel moves from the labor troubles in Colorado to turn-of-the-century New York, to London and Gottingen, Venice and Vienna, the Balkans, Central Asia, Siberia at the time of the mysterious Tunguska Event, Mexico during the Revolution, postwar Paris, silent-era Hollywood, and one or two places not strictly speaking on the map at all.

"With a worldwide disaster looming just a few years ahead, it is a time of unrestrained corporate greed, false religiosity, moronic fecklessness, and evil intent in high places. No reference to the present day is intended or should be inferred. The sizable cast of characters includes anarchists, balloonists, gamblers, corporate tycoons, drug enthusiasts, innocents and decadents, mathematicians, mad scientists, shamans, psychics, and stage magicians, spies, detectives, adventuresses, and hired guns. There are cameo appearances by Nikola Tesla, Bela Lugosi, and Groucho Marx.

"As an era of certainty comes crashing down around their ears and an unpredictable future commences, these folks are mostly just trying to pursue their lives. Sometimes they manage to catch up; sometimes it's their lives that pursue them.

"Meanwhile, the author is up to his usual business. Characters stop what they're doing to sing what are for the most part stupid songs. Strange sexual practices take place. Obscure languages are spoken, not always idiomatically. Contrary-to-the-fact occurrences occur. If it is not the world, it is what the world might be with a minor adjustment or two. According to some, this is one of the main purposes of fiction.

"Let the reader decide, let the reader beware. Good luck."
—Thomas Pynchon

©2006 Thomas Pynchon; (P)2007 Tantor Media Inc.

What the Critics Say

"[Pynchon's] funniest and arguably his most accessible novel." (New York Times Book Review)
"Pynchon delivers a novel that matches his most influential work, Gravity's Rainbow...in complexity, humor, and insight, and surpasses it in emotional valence....A capacious, gritty, and tender epic." (Booklist)

What Members Say

Average Customer Rating

3.3 (233 )
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3.7 (99 )
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  •  
    Rebecca Lindroos Porterville, Ca USA 01-28-07
    Rebecca Lindroos Porterville, Ca USA 01-28-07 Member Since 2015

    Book Bug

    HELPFUL VOTES
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    "brilliant!"

    Against the Day is Thomas Pynchon's most recent and one of his most accessible and entertaining works. (Mason & Dixon and The Crying of Lot 49 are better books, imo, but this one is certainly a worthy addition to Pynchon's formidable oeuvre.) Dick Hill's reading makes it even better.

    Taking place between 1893 and 1914 in Chicago at the Columbian Exposition and going from there to the globe, inside and out, the story involves a group of very fictional hot-air balloonists, western mines unionists and anarchists (terrorists?) and their families, tycoons and their goons, scientists, mathematicians and a whole menagerie of assorted characters some historical, some not.

    The plot involves the children of slain anarchist Traverse Webb as they basically try to 1. avenge his death and 2. escape the clutches of the evil tycoon Scarsdale Vibe. Meanwhile, the Chums of Chance glide around observing from their balloon above. But that's a very, very simplified version of the intricate convolutions the plot of this encyclopedic novel takes.

    The themes are the closing of the frontier and the onset of modern life, including the boom of technology and capitalist greed. Meanwhile, the common man is doomed to live under the oppression of totalitarian regimes willing to use militaristic force to ensure domination.

    Different styles are used for different plots of the book varying from Dime Novel to American Western to erotica and spy novel. This is quite effective in maintaining interest throughout such a long book.

    The narrator Dick Hill gives a bit of very appropriate energy and drama to the reading and although it took a few minutes to get used to the voice (as usual for me), it's obvious Hill knows and loves the material and his interpretation is "cracker-jack!" Good show!

    43 of 44 people found this review helpful
  •  
    John Austin, TX, United States 06-09-07
    John Austin, TX, United States 06-09-07 Member Since 2014
    HELPFUL VOTES
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    "mind-boggling"

    Quite an investment in time, but worth the effort in my judgement. I downloaded this book Jan 30th and didn't finish until June 8th! 53 hours and 38 mins later, I'm still a little confused on some of the plotlines. Nevertheless, the concepts I did understand are brilliant and the character names are like Dickens on steroids. Pynchon has a knack for presenting ideas or observations in a couple of pages that other authors would use to fill an entire book. The wit is very smart, all sorts of sly allusions to history and pop culture abound. Worth the effort for me but, as the WSJ and NYT said in their reviews, this book isn't for everyone. There were times when I thought it might not be for me either, but I persevered and am glad I did. The narrator was excellent, it's got to be quite a challenge to deal with this many characters, the sheer size and all of the mathematical terms, scientific jargon and strange locales.

    27 of 28 people found this review helpful
  •  
    Waterman 06-03-07
    Waterman 06-03-07 Member Since 2005
    HELPFUL VOTES
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    "Pynchon’s best yet!"

    The broadest and most joyous of this remarkable author's unique, sprawling, epic, poetic sagas. An absorbing, sometimes surreal and almost overwhelming miasma of fact, fiction and fantasy, set during the period of tumultuous advancement in thought and discovery between the 1890’s and 1920’s, and peripheral to the dark and foreboding “war to end all wars”. But even more so than his other masterful works – Gravity’s Rainbow, V, The Crying of Lot 49 – this is a positively decadent and ultimately joyous celebration of history, scientific delusion and fact, mysticism, social turmoil and evolution, love real and imagined, flight, time travel, light, energy and ultimately redemption and hope. Pitting industrial and political czars and goons, unionists, mathematicians, inventors, spiritualists, explorers, anarchists, visionaries, charlatans, airship travelers, transcendentalists - all of them basically regular folks like you and me - against and with each other. Dick Hill's narration, voicing, inflection and pace, at first seemingly quirky, are quickly found to be perfect for the material. Though some 52 hours long, it was increasingly absorbing, and ended most graciously, though I'm sorry it had to end at all. This is one for you, whoever you are.

    13 of 13 people found this review helpful
  •  
    Kirk McElhearn 03-05-07
    HELPFUL VOTES
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    "Excellent book, but minor quality issues"

    This is an excellent book, but not for everyone. Some other reviewers pointed out that they couldn't follow it, and, yes, Pynchon is hard to follow. I'm actually listening after reading the book (I read a couple of chapters then listen to the same parts.) With the strange character names, obscure ideas, and many twisted concepts, this is probably not a good choice for something to listen to in the car.

    The narrator, however, turns this into a tour de force - his reading is inspired, and his wide variety of voices fits perfectly with the variegated characters.

    The only issue I have is with the sound quality of the book. When listening on headphones, there is noticable distortion when the reader's voice gets louder than normal. I don't notice this on speakers, but it does detract slightly from the enjoyment of this book when I listen on my iPod. Also, there are a couple of points where you hear a voice saying "This is the end of CD X." Apparently, the file wasn't perfectly cleaned up when Audible put it up for sale. Finally, there is no cover art attached to the files - no big deal, but another minor quality issue.

    10 of 10 people found this review helpful
  •  
    andrew Bountiful, UT, United States 03-07-11
    andrew Bountiful, UT, United States 03-07-11
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    "Stil Undecided; Uneven"

    I finished this book months ago, after taking months on it, between and while reading many other books. I have waffled on it. Listening to it began as pure elation. Then things bog down. A lot of the material is the egghead equivalent of celebrity name dropping; where a People Magazine will show you pics of this or that actress on a bad hair day, Pynchon throws out these somewhat obscure historical and mythical names: so as a reader you say "Oh my gosh its Esche's camels! And a Tassle Worm!" Or if you don't know of these things Pynchon seems very learned and brilliant and your head spins. But in this book I felt they just got tiresome, and they were all very shallow; nothing is added to your knowledge of Tassle Worms for example. There is something of a plot, though as usual in this author's books, the characters are more names and a general class of human (professor, gambler) rather than fleshed-out individuals you care for, though a few of the characters in this book I at least remember vaguely. Things bounce around take on an epic feel only because everything begins to feel epic when it goes on long enough. The end becomes quite excellent again and is a highlight. This is not as good as "Mason Dixon" or "Gravity's Rainbow" I think, but is a good book on the whole. A lot of it felt meandering and some of the sketches felt undeveloped. In some sections I wanted more and in some other places I could have done without the typical Pynchon bizarre graphic sex scenes. In general if you have not read Pynchon you will appreciate him if you ever sigh reading books thinking that everything is done too typically and wishing someone just did their own style- but his style is mostly the same book to book, so your second Pynchon will feel more like nostalgia than discovery. There are zany songs and silly names and complex math equations. This novel seemed to have no plan at times but on the whole I suppose I am enriched and the voice work is mostly spectacular.

    7 of 7 people found this review helpful
  •  
    Riley A. Vann Morristown, NJ USA 11-07-12
    Riley A. Vann Morristown, NJ USA 11-07-12 Member Since 2010
    HELPFUL VOTES
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    "Best Pynchon Novel"
    Would you consider the audio edition of Against the Day to be better than the print version?

    I have read several Pynchon novels before starting this audiobook, so I understood the scope of characters and grand, sweeping events I was in store for. What I *wasn't* ready for was Dick Hill's narration. I have been impressed with audiobook readers before--George Guidall on American Gods, Simon Vance on Wolf Hall, and Roy Dotrice on the Fire and Ice series, each outstanding in his own way handling a multitude of voices and complexity of langauge--but Dick Hill in Against the Day set a new standard which few others will ever reach. His handling of song lyrics, foreign languages, tricksy Pynchon prose mixing both high and low brow culture, and a cast of characters far too long to list here made a very difficult novel come to life and entertain in ways people can't imagine a Pynchon novel can even do. Dick Hill was essential to my enjoyment of this read/listen.


    What other book might you compare Against the Day to and why?

    Obviously it compares to Pynchon's other classics such as Gravity's Rainbow and Mason & Dixon. From the point of view of how it synthesizes so many different ideas from so many different cultural and scientific fields, it reminds me of Joyce's most challenging works: Ulysses and Finnegan's Wake. It also covered much of the same ground as Umberto Eco's recent Prague Cemetery, although it does so in a much more fulfilling and far reaching manner.


    Which scene was your favorite?

    Too many to count. It could be the many discussions of the cultural and political implications of fin de siecle science and math--aether and Riemann Functions for example. It could be the Chums of Chance, the perfect parody of pulp fiction of the early part of the 20th century (think Doc Savage for example). It could be the exploration of the political changes from the 1890's that lead up to the First World War. It might well be the masterful ways in which Pynchon mixes high brow and low brow culture. He'll move from discussing the Michaelson-Morley experiments in the speed of light moving through aether that helped set the groundwork for Einstein's Theory of Relativity to having a Arabic character named Al Mar-Faud who wears a hunting cap, carries a shot gun and loves to go hunting for "wabbits."


    Was there a moment in the book that particularly moved you?

    The Traverse boys, all with different points of view spend most of the novel hunting for the man who was responsible for ordering their father's death. They are as a whole perhaps the most human and fleshed out characters in all of Pynchon's work. Their whole story arc is very moving.


    Any additional comments?

    It's not an easy read/listen, but it's well worth the time. Enjoy the laughter even as you puzzle through the implications of some of the weightier issues and themes. Pynchon is a master at that blend in a way no one else is.

    6 of 6 people found this review helpful
  •  
    George Eureka, CA, USA 01-28-07
    George Eureka, CA, USA 01-28-07
    HELPFUL VOTES
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    "Quite good!"

    Hill does quite a good job with <i>Against the Day.</i> Easy to follow, nice leisurely pace, and a welcome variety of voices, never overdone, make this an enjoyable listen.

    28 of 33 people found this review helpful
  •  
    Len Cambridge, MA, USA 05-12-09
    Len Cambridge, MA, USA 05-12-09 Member Since 2007
    HELPFUL VOTES
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    "Brilliant performance"

    The narrator's work on this book deserves to be recognized as one of the great audio performances. Showing infinite patience with an interminable book, the narrator keeps the characters distinct, employing different voices. By bringing out the pathos and humor in each character, he shows that he understands Pynchon's book, or is at least willing to try. His rendering of the Archduke's offensive jokes, for example, is so hilarious that I listened to it about ten times before moving on. I don't think I could have gotten through this book without the narrator's performance, much less keep the narrative straight.

    8 of 9 people found this review helpful
  •  
    Wallen Danderyd, Sweden 01-16-14
    Wallen Danderyd, Sweden 01-16-14 Member Since 2011
    HELPFUL VOTES
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    "A plethora of characters - too many words"

    This books starts being really interesting, but after a quarter of an hour you discover that your mind has wandered and you haven't listened to the last five minutes at all. You rewind and start over. Same thing after a while again. There are so many characters and the events change so quickly and between caracthers that you quickly lose track of who is who and what they say and why.

    The story takes place at the end of the 19th century. It is a mix of Jules Verne and Charles Dickens. Jules Verne had really interesting ideas and twists and turns (at least in his earlier novels). Dickens had really faboulus characters who became more alive the more you listened to his stories. This book is just a lot of words amassed; it is a lot of exchange of views, but nothing really drives the story forward. It lacks the originality of Jules Verne and the likability and life of the Dickens charaters. Pynchon tries to spice up the novel by placing references to other novels, events, known people, etc. but that just serves to blur the story and make it more confused.

    I have read other books by Pynchon (Gravity's Rainbow, V), both of which I really liked. But Against the Day is just so boring, that I listened with some interest only to the first 10 or so chapters; the rest I just forced myself to go thru until I completely lost interest because of all the mannered and affected style of writing after the third part (of seven in all).

    The narrator tries his best to give different dialects and tones of voice to the plethrora of characters. But he breaks RULE NO. 1 for narrators of audio books. Rule No. 1 is to read with a relatively even voice volume. This narrator varies between whispering to almost screaming and every conceivable volume in between. If you set your listening volume to hear the whispering, it becoems far too loud for the screaming parts. So I had to set the volume somehwere in between, in order to not have to change the volume every 15 seconds, and then you miss some of the less loud parts. Not good narrated at all by Dick Hill.

    3 of 3 people found this review helpful
  •  
    Brian Paul Allison Lenox, MA United States 02-11-13
    Brian Paul Allison Lenox, MA United States 02-11-13 Member Since 2014

    Speak The Dream

    HELPFUL VOTES
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    "two big thumbs up and one down"

    Quality Control Alert.
    Thomas Pynchon and Dick Hill are a perfect combination of excellence. The problem is that the download was VERY messed up. Listener beware, if you end up with the same download of seven parts, most of them ten hours long--and I can't imagine why it would be different for me than someone else, though none of the reviews I read before purchasing mentioned this problem, which baffles me. I've listened to quite a few Audible audiobooks before and have never seen anything like this.
    All of a sudden you are hearing what you heard several hours earlier, with no indication. At first I thought the player had bounced back on the progress bar, but when it happened again I was paying closer attention and knew it wasn't that. I bought the ebook so I could follow along to confirm and clarify. Sure enough: WTF?
    For a long and somewhat challenging book with a lot of characters, it is especially difficult to follow when full of recording discontinuities; frustrating to try and find the proper place to pick up from, which, once I figured out the problem, turned out to be the beginning of the next downloaded section, thus, the story should only be fifty-something hours long, not over sixty.
    I LOVE the audiobook otherwise. Too bad about the terrible engineering, but it should be easy to fix in post. Maybe Audible could give me the credit back for suffering through it, giving you a heads up, ands spelling this out for them.

    3 of 3 people found this review helpful
  • Showing: 1-10 of 36 results PREVIOUS124NEXT
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  • P
    Cambridge, United Kingdom
    12/23/12
    Overall
    "Work of genius well told"

    This is a towering performance of narration which perfectly compliments a fabulous work of art. It is always hard to categorise Thomas Pynchon's work but this lives up to my adoration-soaked expectations. It is joyous, darkly comic, poignant and explosive in its perceptions. It's Technicolor writing performed by a Eastman film voice. And, just to get all value-for-money on you, it's Hours of entertainment at a snip. Bold and beautiful stuff.

    3 of 3 people found this review helpful
  • Tashifan
    7/7/14
    Overall
    Performance
    Story
    "An epic romp through the end of an era"

    As always, Pynchon develops a huge caste of vivid and diverse characters who navigate through various long and convoluted plots which eventually converge together. The immerging technologies of the 20th century are well used to pepper his tale with seeming phantasmagorical happenings, leaving the reader to sometimes wonder where one is being led, only to find oneself in a recognisable place or happening of the time.
    I am full of admiration for Dick Hill as narrator/navigator through this maze. He manages to give each character their own voice which well reflects their personalities, and keeps a good pace going throughout. Even so, I have been forced to re-listen to huge chunks of the book as I suddenly came down to earth and realised that I was completely and irrevocably lost!
    Yes, great value for money and great fun. I was fully immersed in this wondrous tale for several weeks, in the end, and probably listened to the book more than twice by the time I had finished.
    Don’t hesitate, jump in head first and enjoy!!

    1 of 1 people found this review helpful
  • clive
    chesterfield, United Kingdom
    2/10/13
    Overall
    "Too much"

    I really struggled through this. It's very long but I didn't feel immersed in it. I didn't care for any of the characters, who were like figures in some endless, unresolved mathematical equation. The storyline plots were so unconstrained and random that I got lost and past caring. I thought his sympathy for violence in the anarchist cause was cartoonish, naive and unquestioning. I couldn't see the depth, humour or intelligence that others have seen. There is some great writing but it was swamped by too much of everything, with no sense of resolution or even of stories merging. Some people love him but I'd recommend David Foster Wallace or Jennifer Egan instead.

    1 of 2 people found this review helpful
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