Investigative novel ‘Bleeding Edge’ is a hit

By Kevin Searle


For half a century now, Thomas Pynchon has been writing dense, complex novels. In that time, he has become one of the seminal American authors. His latest novel, “Bleeding Edge,” released Sept. 17, is long, winding and complicated. Most books this length and complexity are rendered dull and trite. However, Pynchon’s novel is entertaining and brilliant.

“Bleeding Edge” follows Maxine Tarnow, a fraud investigator who lost her accreditation prior to the novel’s start, as she seeks to uncover the nebulous roots of internet security firm Hashslingrz. The novel is set in New York City, beginning slightly before the events of Sept. 11, which come to play a significant role later on. The dot com bubble, a financial crisis that occurred at the beginning of the 2000s, has just burst and looms large over the novel’s events.

Tarnow, nearly divorced and a mother of two, is a daring and exciting protagonist. She’s willing to talk to potential leads at seedy dive bars, whether it be at 2 p.m or a.m. She attends parties thrown by the mysterious and malevolent-seeming Gabriel Ice, the wunderkind behind Hashslingrz. As the novel progresses and the plot thickens, it becomes increasingly more enthralling.

While the plot is exciting, it’s the small details that increase the novel’s intrigue. Pynchon writes in clipped prose, occasionally electing to leave a verb out of a sentence. This technique, combined with the extensive detailing of Maxine’s thoughts and motivations, has the dual effect of getting the reader inside her head and confusing them about what information is pertinent.

Pynchon makes extensive use of lingo and jargon, and it’s hard to know what phrases are important. The novel makes use of this confusion, throwing out red herrings left and right. The writing itself is labyrinthine, an excellent mirror of the winding path Maxine takes in the novel.

Intelligent humor helps to make the novel entertaining rather than confusing or frustrating. Pynchon’s characters are smart, and he equips them with sharp wit and ample senses of humor. Throwaway jokes and double entendres litter the novel, rewarding the reader paying enough attention to catch the clever jokes. When describing a ‘joint epiphany’ two characters had, he makes a small aside to note it was “maybe more joint than epiphany.”

“Bleeding Edge” is a hard novel to categorize, but above all other distinctions it probably falls into the detective novel category. However, the literary nature of Pynchon’s prose, along with the numerous pop culture references, distinguish it from ordinary detective novels.

While the novel is enjoyable, it’s not without its flaws. Pynchon uses his and his readers’ knowledge of what will happen on Sept.11 and the months following it to give his characters a foresight so accurate it’s feels almost silly.  Additionally, while the novel is intended to be dense, swaths of it are dull. While these defects don’t detract from the novel as a whole, they do have some impact on the reading experience.

Detective novels are not generally thought to have high literary merit. Through his career, Thomas Pynchon has written brilliant novels that challenge that conception. As with any novel, “Bleeding Edge” has its flaws but it succeeds in creating a detective novel that is exciting, funny, smart and above all, interesting.