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Mason & Dixon
Thomas Pynchon
Adult Fiction PYNCHON

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From Publishers' Weekly:

Reputedly two decades in the works, this masterful, polymathic saga begins in the stars and ends at home, in the aftermath of the Revolutionary War. Through the after-dinner reminiscences of a charming, self-appointed and unreliable Boswell, the Reverend Wicks Cherrycoke, Pynchon tells the story of the British astronomer/surveyor duo of Charles Mason and Jeremiah Dixon‘from their first meeting in 1761 to Mason's death 25 years later. This tale, which leads to South Africa, to St. Helena's and ultimately over the Allegheny Mountains, brings the Mason and Dixon into contact with several major figures of American and astrophysics history (George Washington, Thomas Jefferson, Ben Franklin, the Royal Astronomers James Bradley and Nevil Maskelyne), along with a much larger cast of characters (human, animal and mechanical) previously consigned to oblivion, including the crazed feng shui expert Captain Zhang, Fang the Learnèd English Dog and an amorous, man-made talking duck. For all the verve of its dramatis personae, however, this is Pynchon's most restrained novel, and his most unabashedly literary. Echoes of Kipling, Kafka, Lawrence and Conrad resonate alongside Hawthorne, Melville, Twain and the post-Revolutionary poet Joel Barlow. Pynchon's customary wordplay is here (in spades); the novel's jokes rely less on the cartoonish slapstick of V. or Gravity's Rainbow, or the broad satire of The Crying of Lot 49 or Vineland, than on tricks of voice: Pynchon peppers Cherrycoke's 18th-century prose with heroic verse and bawdy serial novels, anachronistic popular songs (Tin-Pan Alley, folk, country-western) and equally anachronistic cultural references: "Keep away from harmful Substances, in particular Coffee, Tobacco and Indian Hemp. If you must use the latter, do not inhale." Even at their goofiest, these time-warped tidbits serve a clear purpose: they are omens of the disorientation, and the dispossession, ushered in by the heroes' famous trek West, when they surveyed the line that divided slave-owning Maryland from Quaker Pennsylvania and so laid a straight road into the country's future. In fact, every step of the journey is an omen‘or an allegory‘of our own American century considered in every aspect, from the culinary to the musical to the political, to the grandly epistemic, with the enlightened Dixon and the proto-Romantic Mason squabbling over their responsibilities to the wilderness before them and the shadowy European interests behind. In the British, French and Dutch naval empires Pynchon has at last discovered historical powers‘historical legacies‘worthy of his paranoia; in this novel he has found his way back to the great American tradition of history-writing‘nine parts ghost story, one part fable‘full of the grim faith that "our Sentiments‘how we dream'd of, and were mistaken in, each other, count for at least as much as our poor cold Chronologies." (Apr.) (c) Copyright PWxyz, LLC. All rights reserved

From Library Journal:

The publication of Pynchon's fifth novel is certain to be a highlight of the literary year. To try and summarize it would be an exercise in futility. Like his previous works, this one is complex‘much more than a simple, rollicking tale of 18th-century surveyors as they wend their way south (to the Cape of Good Hope) and west (to America, where they drew the line for which they will ever be famous‘the boundary that came to define North and South). Indeed, it is this line, this artificial border, that lies at the heart of the novel. When Mason confides to Captain Zhang that the unremitting forest disturbs him, his exotic companion replies that given that Adam and Eve, Buddha and Newton were all enlightened while sitting beneath trees, "A quick review would suggest that Trees produce Enlightenment. Trees are not the Problem. The Forest is not an Agent of Darkness. But it may be your Visto [line] is. ...Nothing will produce Bad History more directly nor brutally, than drawing a line." This belief in the danger of artificial boundaries‘be they political, literary, or philosophical‘is reflected in the very structure of Pynchon's novels, in his efforts not to let "rules" get in the way of what it is he is trying to say. His novel is often poetic, sometimes tedious, and occasionally arcane. The digressions may temporarily confuse, but the humor is sure to amuse (even Star Trek gets a nod). More accessible than Gravity's Rainbow, this is still not a novel to be read quickly. It is a work that grows on one, and as the reader follows from tree to tree, a forest truly does begin to emerge‘with an important message for our "scientific" age. From one of the most unique, thoughtful, and challenging of contemporary authors, a work that is essential for every public and academic library. [Previewed in Prepub Alert, LJ 12/96.]‘David W. Henderson, Eckerd Coll. Lib., St. Petersburg, Fla. (c) Copyright 2010. Library Journals LLC, a wholly owned subsidiary of Media Source, Inc. No redistribution permitted.

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main characters Charles Mason

Jeremiah Dixon

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