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Bleeding Edge 

by Thomas Pynchon, Penguin Press

Early on in Bleeding Edge, fraud investigator Maxine Tarnow-Loeffler observes: "Paranoia is the garlic in life's kitchen, right, you can never have too much." And that's Thomas Pynchon in a nutshell; paranoia is his medium, and his whole 40-some-year career has been an exploration of its various shades and manifestations. Given that, why has it taken him this long to write a 9/11 book? Perhaps he wanted to savor it fully. Is paranoia also a dish best served cold?

Despite a few feints in the direction of Trutherism, Bleeding Edge turns out to be less interested in the details of 9/11 than in the atmosphere it provides. Against the backdrop of a New York City beset by terrorism and the bursting of the dot-com bubble, Maxine pursues numerous shadowy conspiracies that all lead back to the same hub: sinister tech CEO Gabriel Ice, whose name pretty much says it all.

The plot has way too many moving parts to get into here, and it's really beside the point anyway. Pynchon is most of all a stylist, a master of a peculiar kind of magical realism where the interconnectedness of everything is a plain fact of life. In this world, paranoia is akin to a sense of wonder, and the unexplained workings of unseen forces take on a mystical quality. Consider the deliveryman from the already defunct Kozmo.com, who turns up periodically with a key piece of evidence seemingly sent from the Twilight Zone.

This being Pynchon, the strangeness is leavened with healthy doses of whimsy, wordplay and comedy, not to mention sex, drugs and rock 'n' roll. Once best known for Gravity's Rainbow, a famously difficult tome started by many and finished by few, Pynchon has in recent years settled into a style that's relatively accessible, warm even. Maxine, equal parts Sam Spade and Jewish mother, is fun to spend time with and the pages flow by easily. Just don't expect any sort of neatly wrapped ending; Bleeding Edge will leave you with more questions than answers, but also with a heightened sense of what is possible.

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  • by Thomas Pynchon, Penguin Press

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Bill Cassel

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