Manhattan Is the Most Compelling Character in Thomas Pynchon’s ‘Bleeding Edge’


“The job was like American Psycho meets The Devil Wears Prada,” the woman told her friend. I lunched alone at the table to their right. I kept listening, hoping to overhear how the job at some failed startup was a cross between Bret Easton Ellis’ famous psycho businessman and Lauren Weisberger’s roman à clef of her real experiences working for Anna Wintour, but it just sounded like another shitty New York job story. The bad boss called the girl “babe,” the marketing guy had a drug problem, and other quasi-sordid details not uncommon to working in the Big Apple.

In all my years working in New York, I’ve never had a job that united the two books the stranger referenced. I’ve never really read a book that reminded me of the shitty gigs most of us undertake while trying to get by in New York City. But in Thomas Pynchon’s latest, Bleeding Edge, I see a place I’m more familiar with, which is a little strange, since we’re talking about Thomas Pynchon. I never particularly expected to recognize the world described in a Pynchon novel the way I did the September 11, 2001-era New York City of Bleeding Edge. I never thought I’d say that something Thomas Pynchon wrote was a relatable New York novel, and yet that is precisely what I’m saying.

Yes, Bleeding Edge is very obviously a Pynchon Novel. We see fraud investigator Maxine Tarnow thrown into a dizzyingly strange — dare I say Pynchonian — case involving a CEO (named, of course, Gabriel Ice; hired by a guy named, of course, Reg Dupard) of a security firm called hashslingerz. The plot that ensues is rife with conspiracy theories, other great names (Felix Boingueaux, a strip club called Joie de Beavre), and well-researched, nearly journalistic observations about the world in which it’s set, all wrapped up in one weird, somewhat straightforward (for Pynchon), postmodern noir. But the book also shows us a new side of literature’s most famous living recluse, one that makes us believe that there’s a very good chance that Pynchon was walking among those of us who were in New York during the early days of the new millennium.

The characters in Bleeding Edge talk about the good old days, long before the dot-com bubble burst, reminiscing about parties with “naked chicks out in the freight elevator covered with Krispy Kreme donuts,” banishing “yuppie collectors” of cigars from J.P Morgan’s private stock and old Marx Brothers props. Read through this novel, and, if you’ve ever lived in New York City, you can’t ignore the familiarity of the city filtered through Pynchon’s brain.

While it is apparent that the mysterious Pynchon has a handle on New York as a setting, either through experience or painstaking research, the book’s characters aren’t believable; they’re just faces we’re supposed to imagine, talking and living inside the New York of Pynchon’s fashioning. Which, if you take away the author’s imagination and influence, is really what New York is: an ocean of faces rushing past you, talking about things that could very well be of little consequence, or billion dollar, world changing big-business speak. By failing to write a full cast of New Yorkers you can connect with, Pynchon might have actually ended up writing the most accurate account of Manhattanites as you can find.

“Sometime if you want to see New York,” Upton Sinclair wrote in his 1908 novel The Moneychangers, which claimed that the Wall Street panic of the previous year was deliberate, “just get Johnny Price to take you about and introduce you to his bookmakers and burglars!” In a way, Pynchon’s novel is part of a lineage that includes Sinclair’s book, American Psycho, Tom Wolfe’s The Bonfire of the Vanities, and Don DeLillo’s Cosmopolis; all books that spin people from a specific New York business culture into fiction. Unlike the other books mentioned, Bleeding Edge uses the Internet startups of Silicon Alley right before and after the Twin Towers fell rather than the more attractive, flashy world of Wall Street.

And yet, Pynchon’s novel isn’t the type of work that is too New York City, so stylized that it might turn people off. This isn’t some sappy love letter to the city that he grew up a stone’s throw away from on Long Island. Bleeding Edge is, above all, undeniably Pynchon. But for an author who has always written and lived in a way that puts him in a class all his own, having some company for once is an interesting change of pace.