‘Against the Day,’ at Night


At St. Mark’s Bookshop last night.Photo: Juli Weiner

There are, apparently, some people so eager to read Thomas Pynchon’s new, 1,000-page novel, Against the Day, that they couldn’t wait till this morning, when it went on sale, to purchase a copy. For them, St. Mark’s Bookshop stayed open past midnight last night. “It was a symbolic gesture in the wake of the Harry Potter phenomenon,” explained Robert, a clerk there. “Sort of the antithesis of that.” Of course.

The Cult of Pynchon rests just as much on the novels themselves — with their intricate conspiracies, counter-histories, and puzzles in every paragraph — as on the author’s notorious reclusion. With the exception of a few guest spots on The Simpsons, he makes zero public appearances — it’s generally known that he resides in New York — and hasn’t been photographed in some 50 years. “We have no idea what he looks like,” Robert said. “He could be here and we wouldn’t know it.”

The scene on St. Mark’s as midnight approached was, well, a scene out of a Pynchon novel: A sect converging for the release of a prophecy from their mysterious leader. Here are a few characters from the evening:

• Ed Kabak strode in around eleven and announced: “The hour approaches.” He quickly reported that he had already read 200 pages of the novel, having illicitly purchased it from an undisclosed location. Attorney by trade, poet by predilection, and member in good standing of the Finnegan’s Wake Society, Kabak pulled out a two-page poem he had composed for the occasion:

At the stroke of the hour there lifted embargo
As the shrink wrap crinkled then snapped
Kakutani, John Leonard, and Mendelsohn’s cargo
Were delivered to them as they napped

He had, he explained, no patience for Michiko Kakutani, John Leonard, and Daniel Mendelsohn, three critics who have “no patience for postmodernist stuff.”

• The first copy sold went to a guy in a leather jacket and an orange scarf roughly the color of his hair. “I’m writing about it, too,” he said. “Rather not talk about it.” He said nothing else and left a few minutes later, carrying a yellow legal pad. It was still blank.

• Another gentleman who preferred to stay anonymous also preferred not to join the line. He wasn’t there to buy the book, he explained, but rather — like the protagonist of Pynchon’s first novel, V — to find a woman he had never seen. It seems a prominent literary agent had announced on her blog that she’d be there, and he was hoping for a chat. “She’s got my novel.” He was unsuccessful.

St. Mark’s Bookshop closed around 12:30. Nineteen copies had been sold. (Hey, they said it would be the antithesis of a Potter opening night.) We can neither confirm nor deny that the author was present.

Marc Tracy

‘Against the Day,’ at Night