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He’s been credited, justly, with perfecting encyclopedic postmodernism in his third novel, Gravity’s Rainbow, as well as in other kaleidoscopic epics and a few books he’d call potboilers and others would call the minor work of a giant.

But ­Pynchon, by truly going the countercultural distance—running farther, fighting harder, and writing wilder—has crafted a more slippery persona.

He doesn’t just challenge his fans; he pranks them, dares them to find out what he’s really about (or maybe just to stop exalting Important Writers in the first place).

He wrote a series of fictional columns under pseudonyms in his high-school paper in which teachers used drugs, shot off guns, and were driven insane by student pranks.

In one story, a leftist agitator “got acquainted with the business end of a night stick the hard way.” Pynchon later recalled that his first “honest-to-God” story was about World War II—though in his recollection it doubled as a plan for how to navigate the stultifying culture of postwar America. “Any concrete dedication to an abstract condition results in unpleasant things like wars.” Engineering physics, the hardest program at Cornell, was meant to supply Cold War America with its elites—the best and the brightest, junior league.

“Some of it is true,” Pynchon wrote of the story, “but none of the interesting parts.

Keep trying.” Early on in Gravity’s Rainbow, Tyrone Slothrop muses bitterly on his old-money roots.

She wanted to stop at a bar and have a shot to settle her stomach.

According to Tharaldsen, he exploded, telling her he would not tolerate midday drinking.

Tharaldsen says she saw Pynchon’s IQ score, somewhere in the 190s. He wrote much later about feeling in college “a sense of that other world humming out there”—a sense that would surely nag him from one city to another for the rest of his life.

He was also in thrall to Thomas Wolfe and Lord Byron.