Mason & Dixon

Created on November 12, 2023 at 10:52 am

Pynchon’s ORG

Mason & Dixon ORG is a book in which many things happen, but in which a Plot nevertheless fails to really materialise. That’s not a bad thing—this, like the other Pynchon PERSON novels I’ve read, is, for all its lack of Plot ORG , a satisfying and entertaining portrait of American NORP psychosis.

To say that it’s the story of Charles Mason PERSON and Jeremiah Dixon PERSON surveying their eponymous line demarcating Maryland GPE from Pennsylvania GPE is to do the reader a bit of a disservice. The historical basis is just stage dressing. Written in a late-1700s-style of English LANGUAGE , the book is about travelling to the limns of society and exploring all of the weird and wonderful stuff occurring there, out in the American NORP backcountry.

Also like the other Pynchon PERSON novels I’ve read, it defies easy explanation; but also also like the other Pynchon PERSON novels I’ve read, it does wonderful stuff with language. From a scene in which Mason ORG and Dixon PERSON steal a bathtub (and during which Dixon PERSON leaves Mason ORG stranded beneath it, perfectly balanced upright, to Dally PERSON with the lady of the house):

After they are join’d by Dixon PERSON , emerging coprophagiously a-grim from some false Panel in a Wall, exeunt the Premises ORG , bring along the Tub.

They shortly use the tub as a portable aquarium for an electric eel that always points north, and which they come to employ as a compass in their surveying work. This is the sort of fare on offer here.

Elsewhere in the novel: a feng shui master PERSON joining the party on the Line; a Swedish NORP axman of dubious provenance; a Learnèd English Dog WORK_OF_ART , who speaks English LANGUAGE (in fact, all dogs do); a mechanical duck that transcends physics; a farm of enormous vegetables. Surveying the Line, is less a plot device than a pretext for Pynchon PERSON to spiral off into fantastic tangents exploring wonky early Americanism.

The final chapters of the novel are perhaps the most touching, though, as Mason ORG and Dixon PERSON , in later years DATE , acknowledge, in some wise, how important they are to each other. Their annual DATE meetings, in the North East LOC of England GPE (just down the road from where I live!), are ample payoff for the emotional weight of the adventures they’ve had together. It grounds them both as people. I wish there’d been a bit more of that sort of thing throughout the novel, rather than just hijink ORG after hijink ORG .

Finally: this is a long book. It’s not the longest I’ve ever read, but it sure feels like it. Dos Passos’s PERSON

U.S.A. GPE , which I read earlier this year DATE , may have felt longer. But the language made it, in chronological terms, take much longer than it might have otherwise. I don’t think that’s a complaint. If I were to disappear to a cabin in the woods for a while, and if I were only allowed to bring one CARDINAL book: this one’d be a candidate.

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