So there’s this spider who lives by the light over the door to our house that we use most of the time. (There are three doors to our house, which is not surprising, given that there are six — count ’em — doors into the kitchen.) Anyway, this is one very ambitious spider. Every evening she spins an elaborate, perfect web to catch bugs coming to the light. In contrast to the resident spiders in previous summers, who were satisfied with compact webs in the corner of the doorframe, this one spins webs that cover the top two-thirds of the door, so to enter or exit after dark requires crouching down to nearly knee-level, which is even less fun than it sounds.
Every morning the remnants of the web hang in tatters, torn by the larger insects (moths, mostly) who are caught but then break free, and I knock the whole thing down with a broom. The spider at that point is elsewhere, probably asleep in the doorframe. Then, as evening falls, she’s suddenly there again, sitting in the center of a perfect new web. The door itself is mostly one large glass panel in a wooden frame, so if there’s nothing on TV I can wander over there and wave to her.
Like any red-blooded American boy, I actually dislike and fear spiders, but living in the country has made me very reluctant to kill anything. There are millions of assorted creepy-crawly things living within ten yards of this house, and there’s a good chance they all know each other. Besides, she’s just a little spider with one little spider-life.
Onward. I’m still in the process of reading Gravity’s Rainbow by Thomas Pynchon, which is not surprising since it’s 760 pages long and I read maybe 15 pages a night. Then I think about it, and often re-read bits. Occasionally I have dreams based on parts of the book. It’s an exceedingly odd book, often somewhat hard to follow because Pynchon shifts narrative viewpoints, frequently without notice. But I’ve found that the best approach is to just keep going, because things usually become clear (or clearer) down the line. Pynchon is a remarkable writer, and between the jokes and digressions are passages of truly amazing beauty. Reading him is a bit like listening to Bach; every so often you finish a section and find yourself wondering How in the world does he do that? The story of Franz Pökler (an engineer on the project developing the V-2 rocket) and his daughter, who is allowed to visit once a year and may actually be someone other than his daughter, perhaps a different child every year, is both deeply disturbing and hauntingly sad. Much of Pynchon’s work, not just this book, has a subtext of elegiac sadness to it.
Anyway, having read a few of his later books, I definitely prefer GR, as it’s known among the Pynchonitarians, of whom there are useful thousands online maintaining wikis, timelines and very handy glossaries. (One of my favorites is a guide called “Some Things that ‘Happen’ (More or Less) in Gravity’s Rainbow.” That says it all right there. You can never be absolutely sure.) I keep reading people saying they gave up on GR halfway through, but I think I’m the sort who finishes it and then reads it again.
By the way, not only does my little b&w Nook let me make the print bigger, but it completely removes the intimidation factor from huge books.
But I might have to put off re-reading GR for this. Pynchon, by the way, is 76 years old; as one reviewer recently asked, “Where does he get this much energy?” His new book centers on the internet and the commercialization, corruption and subversion of the same as seen in the period around 9/11.
Elsewhere in the news, I came across a remarkable film on YouTube a while back: The Lives of Others (Das Leben Der Anderen), a 2006 German film about the East German (GDR) Stasi (security police) in the 1980s. It’s a fictional, but meticulously researched, story about a popular playwright under surveillance by the state, and it’s one of the best films I’ve ever seen. Seriously. Truly an amazing movie both as a cliffhanger drama and a tribute to the spirit of people living under a totalitarian regime. I’m not sure why the YouTube version, which is a full, decent copy with subtitles, is still up there (perhaps the studio considers it a loss-leader), but if you want a more convenient high-res copy Netflix must have it. Once you’ve seen it, check out the Wikipedia entry for the film; one of the actors (who plays a Stasi agent) had an experience very similar to the one portrayed in the film while a resident of the GDR.
Meanwhile, at the other end of the cultural spectrum, I had started watching Stephen King’s Under the Dome after Falling Skies (which I kinda like, although it could use some dinosaurs) ended its season earlier this summer. I had actually read the Dome book, mostly because it was there, and thought that King had taken a good idea, as usual, and beaten it to death, as usual, with bad writing and cardboard characters. However, this TV series, which I understand is a huge hit for CBS, makes the book look like Tolstoy. This show is so relentlessly moronic that I wasn’t surprised that for the recent season finale they threw in the towel on logic and just turned the stupid up to 11. I guess it’ll be back next year, unless someone gets behind a petition to stop it. I’ll sign.
On the other hand, that may not be a problem because we’re about to cancel our satellite TV service (which is all you can get out here; even broadcast channels don’t reach us with any reliability). We just don’t have the money for it any more. We tried to get one of those internet streaming gizmos to work so we could at least watch Netflix, etc., but our line speeds are way too slow.
When we moved out here from New York City, I was writing these columns, a book roughly every two years, and book reviews for several newspapers. I was never going to be rich, but living in the country is cheap, so it seemed to be working. Now, seven years after being diagnosed with primary-progressive MS, I struggle to continue these columns as the disease progresses (at the moment I walk with a very slow, very painful shuffle and can’t really use my left hand). I was a week late paying the hosting fee for this site last month.
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And now, on with the show….