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About the Book


It's Christmas Eve, 1955, and ex-seaman Benny Profane--"a schlemihl and human yo-yo"--is back in Norfolk, Virginia, with some old Navy buddies and Paola Maijstral, the enigmatic barmaid from Valletta, Malta. By January, he and Paola are in New York City with a group of wastrels self-styled The Whole Sick Crew; and Profane roams the streets and the sewers (hunting alligators) of a city that seems to just bounce him back in forth. In the meantime, Herbert Stencil--questing son of a dead British Foreign Office man--has been, since 1945, hunting for the utterly mysterious V., an unknown (perhaps unknowable) woman whom Stencil knows only from an entry in his late father's journals--"Florence, April, 1899 . . . There is more behind and inside V. than any of us had suspected. Not who, but what: what is she." And he knows, he has intuited, "that she'd been connected . . . with one of those grand conspiracies or foretastes of Armageddon which seemed to have captivated all diplomatic sensibilities in the years preceding the Great War. V. and a conspiracy." By January 1956, Stencil's search has brought him to New York City, where his and Benny Profane's paths inevitably cross. From that point of crossing, Thomas Pynchon's first novel takes readers on a wild and wonderful tour of the twentieth century and of contemporary America. Record-company and armaments executives (Roony Winsome and Clayton "Bloody" Chiclitz) jostle on these pages with British spies and Nazi rocket builders (Eric Bongo-Shaftsbury and Kurt Mondaugen), dentists and plastic surgeons (Dudley Eigenvalue and Shale Shoenmaker) rub metaphoric elbows with street gangs and jaz musicians (the Playboys and McClintic Sphere). And all the while, the world has either run down into meaninglessness or is run by a vast conspiracy that imposes a single absolute meaning on everyone.

by Thomas Pynchon

  • Publication Date: March 24, 1999
  • Paperback: 560 pages
  • Publisher: Harper Perennial Modern Classics
  • ISBN-10: 0060930217
  • ISBN-13: 9780060930219