Among those contemporary novelists who enjoy both popular and academic followings, Thomas Pynchon stands out as a virtual cult figure. His novels and stories stand up to the most rigorous critical analysis; they prove, like all great works of art, to be the product of a gifted sensibility and careful craftsmanship. At the same time, Dr. Samuel Johnson’s “common reader” cheerfully wades through much abstruse matter because this author never fails to entertain—with bizarre plots, incandescent language, anarchic humor, and memorable characters.
Pynchon has an enormous, diverse, and fanatically loyal following. Many books, critical essays, and scholarly journal articles have been written on his work. Some of the fascination he holds for readers is derived from his reclusive habits. He has refused to be interviewed, photographed, or otherwise made into a darling of the mass media. Thirty years after the publication of his first novel, it finally became known that Pynchon makes his home in New York City.
Pynchon has been honored with a number of literary awards. He received the William Faulkner Foundation Award for V., the 1967 Rosenthal Foundation Award of the National Institute of Arts and Letters for The Crying of Lot 49, and the National Book Award for Gravity’s Rainbow in 1974. Though the judging committee unanimously voted to award the Pulitzer Prize in fiction to Pynchon for Gravity’s Rainbow, the committee was overruled by an advisory board that found the novel immoral and “turgid.” The Howells Medal, awarded once every five years, was offered to Pynchon in 1975, but he declined it.
Pynchon occupies a place in the front rank of twentieth and twenty-first century American fiction writers, and more than one distinguished critic has declared him America’s finest novelist.