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Thomas Pynchon – Slow LearnerSlow Learner is a collection of early short stories by Thomas Pynchon; consisting of a mix of fascinating & highly readable stories, interspersed with less developed/mature parts. Incidentally this very much matches Pynchon’s own assessment of his early work, although with some disagreements on which part is what…

Firstly – this is an excellent book, a showcase for the early work of the author of such classics as Gravity's Rainbow, V (nothing to do with the TV series of the same name!), or Against The Day. It consists of two parts: firstly (and it’s this that sets the Book apart!) there is a review - by the famously secretive author of his early work himself - of his learning curve, his influences, outlining his opinions on his early efforts. Personally I think he’s too hard on himself (this is excellent material, despite the odd weak points), but it’s worth the book’s price alone.

The second part of the book comprises of five short stories, written between 1959 and 1964; just before his first novel, The Crying of lot 49. The short stores included here have all been published before, and some are available as novellas. They are:

- The Small Rain
- Low lands
- Entropy
- Under the Rose
- The secret Integration

The small Rain” follows a soldier into an assignment into a town flooded after being hit by a Hurricane; dealing with Refugees, picking up floating bodies etc. Spooky, prescient, and very impressive. And yes, written in 1959.
Low lands” talks about disaffection, about belonging, about finding your own tribe – in this case gypsies living underground in a huge rubbish dump. It’s a mix between Gibson’s “The Belonging Kind” and “Mole People”. In a good way. .
Entropy” is the story of a long term (never ending!) Party, and of a mystic concerned with the energy balance in the world, and its asymptotic approach to a final value. Pointless, entertaining, and unsettling. .
Under the Rose” is a spy romp of the old ilk. A lot of it reminds me of passages in “Gravity’s Rainbow”. An excelled story, highly absorbing, engaging characters, and a cheap and forced ending. .
The secret Integration” deals with the dichotomy between the adult and the adolescent world; with integration (or not), with racism, and the way children are much more accepting of humans, without looking at skill or other external separators that adult’s use / make. Despite Pynchon’s claim that this story is the best of the lot I liked it the least. Not sure what this says about my taste or the maturity thereof…

So, what about the book overall? Well, it’s a collection of (mostly very) good stories, and a really fascinating insight into the writing and the thoughts of a highly reclusive writer – more than a bonus, a reason to get the book alone! So, off you go!

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Title: Slow Learner
Author: Thomas Pynchon
Reviewer: Markus
Publisher:  Vintage (Random House)
Publisher URL: http://www.randomhouse.co.uk
Publication Date: 1995
Review Date: 19 Sept 2006
ISBN: 0099532514
Price: £6.99
Pages: 193
Format: Paperback
Topic: short stories
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