“The Secret Integration” is the longest and most interesting of Pynchon’s early stories. Set in Mingeboro, a small town in the Berkshire Hills of western Massachusetts, it concerns a group of teenage boys who have hatched a plot to disrupt the adult community and eventually to assume control of the town themselves. At the time of the story they are preparing their second annual trial run, pretending to attack the school and considering what other steps they might take.
The four boys most deeply involved are Grover Snodd, a kind of genius, an inventor whose inventions rarely work but who has convinced his parents and the school board to let him leave the local school to study at the nearby college; Tim Santora, a typical teenager; Étienne Cherdlu, a compulsive joker (his name is a pun on the old printers’ fill-in line, etaoin shrdlu); and Carl Barrington, son of a black family that has just moved into a new housing development. The mothers of Grover and Tim make anonymous obscene phone calls to the Barringtons’ home, trying to force them to leave town.
The story depends on misdirection. The four boys seem to be cast in the mold of Booth Tarkington’s Penrod and Sam or Mark Twain’s Tom Sawyer—mischievous but good-hearted, involved in boys’ games that cannot harm anyone. (Tarkington was a twentieth century novelist who wrote about boys’ games in a small Indiana town; Twain was a nineteenth century American novelist, some of whose works dealt with boys’ adventures.) It seems to be merely a joke that one of their other...
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