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Meet Your Neighbor, Thomas Pynchon

"In choosing to remain invisible," says Gray, "he has made himself far more intriguing than the novelists you can watch on the Today show."

Lately, however, things have been changing. Pynchon hasn't done Rolonda yet, but he has done some print, some TV, and some rock and roll. "He doesn't seem as concerned with being a recluse recently," Tomaske says a bit worriedly.

It must have elicited a double take from most everybody opening The New York Times Book Review on June 6, 1993, that Thomas Pynchon had written a long essay on one of the seven deadly sins—sloth. (A self-mocking choice on his part, perhaps, since it was well known that it took the writer seventeen years to get from Gravity's Rainbow to that much lesser book Vineland.) Not only was Pynchon revealing his musings on morality; he was admitting to having flipped through the National Enquirer and noticed who won its national Couch Potato competition.

Then in '94 came The John Laroquette Show. Reports that Pynchon vetted a script with a subplot involving him turn out to be perfectly true. "I got a call from Pynchon's agent," says Don Reo, then the head writer on the sitcom, "saying Pynchon liked the script, but he wanted a couple of changes. 'First,' she said, 'you call him Tom, and no one ever calls him Tom. Second, although he likes Willy DeVille' "—of Mink DeVille, of whom Reo had Pynchon giving away a T-shirt to a pal in a diner—" 'he would prefer if it were a T-shirt with Roky Erickson of the 13th Floor Elevators,' " a psychedelic Texas band.

"When we first met him, we were, like, the guy's weird. And then he said he was Pynchon, and we were, like, yeah, right, anybody could say that."

Pynchon's emergence became all but official earlier this year when he wrote the liner notes for the alternative-rock band Lotion and conducted an interview with the four band members in Esquire. Pynchon's Lotion notes, by the way, are full of remarks that anyone could take as an indication that he lives in New York City. And like most New Yorkers, he sounds on the verge of being fed up with the place, accusing New York of being "in the middle of a seasonal charm deficiency." Pynchon's as annoyed by Disney's seizure of 42nd Street as everybody else in town: "Times Square is being vacated and jackhammered into somebody's idea of an update. . . ."

Rob Youngberg, Lotion's drummer, says he thinks Pynchon's liner notes are "perfect." "We wanted him to do them, so we kept hinting. . . . Then he offered. It was like that awkward moment on the first date."

The press registered a fair amount of amazement when Pynchon's buddyship with Lotion became evident. The story, told in The New Yorker and other places, is that Pynchon followed the band to a gig in Cincinnati, where he revealed himself backstage. And they all became friends. Pynchon wore a Godzilla T-shirt. "That is not totally true. I think it was Rodan the flying dinosaur," Youngberg says.

Some people wonder whether any of it is true, or just Pynchon pulling everybody's leg again, with the boys in the band in cahoots. "As I understand it, the real story is that the father of one of the band members is Thomas Pynchon's personal banker," says a music reporter. "But I can't prove it."

Youngberg just laughs at how he and his colleagues have become part of the Lore. "When we first met him we were like, the guy's weird. And then he said he was Pynchon, and we were like, yeah, right, anybody could say that. Then we found out he was Thomas Pynchon and we said, well, that makes sense.

"He's not what you would expect," adds Youngberg. "He's just really nice and very friendly. He likes the way we write songs; we loved the way he writes books."

Pynchon's latest book is, like everything else about him, surrounded by rumors. For nearly twenty years, there has been speculation that he was working on a novel having something to do with the Mason-Dixon line. His publisher, Henry Holt, announced last week a title confirming the conjecture: Mason & Dixon will come out in the spring. According to the Washington Post, the 1,000-page manuscript is "a reimagining of the lives of British surveyors Charles Mason and Jeremiah Dixon. According to one description, it features Native Americans, frontier folk, ripped bodices, naval warfare, erotic and political conspiracies, and major caffeine abuse." Sort of Thomas Pynchon-meets-Margaret Mitchell, at Starbucks. "People always have misinformation about his hovels," says Roberts, Pynchon's editor. "I doubt even his friends know what this book is about."

Whatever it's about, the book figures as a turning point in Pynchon's reputation. Has the guy still got it? "He started out so magnificently, and then we got that terrible book [Vineland]," says Harold Bloom. "I hope he will vindicate himself with the new one."