The Crying of Lot 49

(Critical Survey of Contemporary Fiction)

Oedipa Maas, a California housewife called on to execute the will of her former lover, the tycoon Pierce Inverarity, discovers that the estate seems consciously designed to reveal an extraordinary pattern to her. She discovers a secret: a centuries-old mail delivery system called Trystero that subsumes every conceivable pocket of disaffection in the new world--from disgruntled aerospace workers to Mexican revolutionaries to AC/DC, the Alameda County Death Cult. The more she investigates, the more evidence she finds that Trystero is everywhere, an unnoticed but terrifying presence in a troubled landscape.

In addition to being a metaphor for Oedipa’s gathering paranoia, Trystero comes to suggest something more benign: an alternative to “the exitlessness that harrows the head of everyone you know” in affluent America. The Trystero is something that resists the cultural entropy that afflicts modern society--the deadly tendency to seek some level of minimal differentiation.

It is also Pynchon’s model of the system, the scheme of significance, that humanity always hungers for. The modern world offers fewer and fewer verities, and absolute systems of value such as those traditionally found in religion have long since been debunked. Yet the world persists in embracing attempts at systematizing human experience, whether in scientific, religious, or cultural terms. The Crying of Lot 49 reveals such systems as merely less obviously...

(The entire section is 542 words.)