The Shortest Distance between Two Pints Is A Strayed Lion

Thu Aug 21, 2008

The title phrase comes from one of Pynchon’s letters to Kirkpatrick Sale in the Harry Ransom Center. I won’t tell you the lead-up, but rest assured that it is every word the groaner you think it might be. (A letter from Phillip Roth to DeLillo in the same archive advises him against using Pynchon’s blurb for Mao II: Roth writes that it has something like five cliches in seventy words.)

I return to Gravity’s Rainbow now and then for light reading and to recall the electric incomprehension I felt when I first read it as a freshman. When I got to the scene where Slothrop, in a sodium amytal trance, fantasizes about entering a Roxbury toilet as an undergraduate, I noticed that Slothrop describes his classmate Jack Kennedy as “athletic, and kind, and one of the most well-liked fellows in [his] class. Sure is daffy about that history, though” (65).

I assume that “daffy” means, from Slothrop’s perspective, a wonkish interest. Now my question to you is: does this, even for the late 60s, idealized portrait of Kennedy reflect only Slothrop’s opinion or Pynchon’s as well?