Mason & Dixon — chapter notes

  1. Wicks intro, the children and rumpus room
  2. Letters between Mason and Dixon
  3. A drinking night out with the pair as they encounter the Learned English Dog who imparts some wisdom and nonsense, a crew is established, fortunes told and fates warned.
  4. departing the channel their ship the Seahorse encounters a French enemy and a battle ensues, the English ship gets pummeled, 30+ casualties. Mason and Dixon work below assisting Wicks with surgery, and the ship returns to port mend itself and presumably bring on additional crew. M&D end the adventure by getting pissed.
  5. The damaged lick their wounds, and send word of their battle to the Royal Society. Who is not impressed.
  6. Repaired with a new Capt. Grant the Seahorse sets out once again, crew full of nonsense (especially Veevle) and preparations are made to fete Mason, Dixon, and the Rev Wicks as they cross the equator for the first time.
  7. Arrival at the Cape, Mason and Dixon shack up with the Vroom family, and the three pretty and pretty horny daughters therein. After messing about with Mason, the girls leave off and M is ambushed in the sack by a slave girl. They try to figure out how to see the Transit of Venus with all the bad Cape weather.
  8. The boys do everything they can to avoid eating at the foul Vroom table. Of course they’re pestered by the V daughters. They stagger out into the night and the chapter ends with a feasting of mangoes.
  9. Mason gets caught fussing with Mrs. Vroom while a Vroom daughter also makes a move. Of course he falls escapes out a window, ass over tea kettle. The Vroom girls and the slave girl trek over the the boys’ observatory and pester the men, cruel young beauties ev’ry one.
  10. At last the Transit begins, and the boys take their marks and measurements and time-stamps of the event. Much of the town and Vroom contingent gets involved with the astronomy. Afterwards the men wait idle until the winds return, and they leave the Cape headed for St. Helena.
  11. The boys arrive at St. Helena and Mason spots an old flame, one Florinda, whom he met at the Tybrun hangings long ago, after the death of his wife. They joked and flirted and now she’s here–with a grim-reaper looking fiance in tow.
  12. The boys get shitfaced in a bar with Nevil Maskelyne and they talk with a clock. Yes a clock. Dixon is ordered back to the Cape.
  13. Mason on St. Helena sans Dixon. He tolerates the company of Maskelyne, and they try to keep sane while creating each other’s astrology charts.
  14. Dixon and Vroom visit a Cape whorehouse and can’t tell what happens. Ennui sets in, not sure the point of the chapter.
  15. Mason and Maskelyne continue to bug the crap out of each other, and the ghost of Mason’s dead wife shows up to pester him. Dixon returns and hears of this apparition.
  16. We learn of the first meeting between Mason and his wife Rebekah, a cheese rolling festival. Mason was nearly flattened by a 10-foot cheese wheel, until Bekah shoved him out of the way.
  17. Mason talks to a pickled ear and asks for Dixon to return, and lo-behold, they set off back to England. They talk of a plan to survey some land in America; Maskelyne doesn’t want the gig so they can take it.
  18. More of Mason’s past, a remembrance of family time and Rebekah.
  19. Another bar room chapter, talk of time and Jesuits and nonsense.
  20. Mason informs his family of his upcoming trip to America. His sons and others are afraid of him. His father (Charles Sr) laments that he will continue to pay for their upkeep. Ends with a long treatise on bread, the kneading and baking.
  21. Another flashback with Rebekah, and Mason dawdles around London preparing to leave for America.
  22. Some Dixon backstory on his surveying education w/ William Emerson, and an intro to Father Maire, SJ. who attempts to bring Dixon into the Society before he departs for America.
  23. Dixon and Emerson and the Jesuit head to the pub to get pissed. Fr. Maire reflects on a pizza he once ate, and he makes one anew, the first in Brattain. The full moon turns a pubgoer into a song-and-dance werewolf.
  24. Good background on Dixon and his family.
  25. At long last the boys head off for America. Yes, America.
  26. The boys arrive in America and find all sorts of wares being hawked along the shore. They enter Philadelphia.
  27. They meet one Benjamin Franklin in an apothecary shop and immediately decide on a pub visit with the famous founder. Ben talks women and electricity and later they are joined by some of Ben’s female fans.
  28. The boys meet up with one Colonel George Washington and smoke a few bowls of hemp with him, as Martha Wa. arrives with a tray of sweet munchies to sate the smokers. Washington’s black Jewish slave tells a bunch of jokes, and perhaps a Chinese-Jesuit plot is discovered.
  29. More putzing around Philly, visits to pubs, chance meetings of secret societies, wha?


Walker Percy and Thomas Pynchon in 1966

A lazy glance at the available Walker Percy criticism finds him often linked with other Southern writers, and most often hitched with Flannery O’Connor. That union doesn’t hold for me; while both write the wicked and wry, O’Connor strikes me as more garish and lurid–in good ways–while Percy’s humor tends to the deadpan side of the dial; plus, he will slow to build a scene, whereas O’Connor seems to get right to it.

If I were to write big on Percy’s The Last Gentleman I’d juxtapose it with Pynchon’s The Crying of Lot 49. Both were released in 1966, both were second novels, both feature extended road journeys, and both, today, seem honest records of life and lifestyles of respective coasts. 
Oedipa’s trip, down-up-and down again California, and Barrett’s lollygagging around the coast from New York City to Georgia in a trailer truck, both seem to me searching tales of what fickle people call personal growth and experience. Oedipa is the sharper more confident of the two, while Barrett’s sexual shyness doesn’t preclude him from honest assessments of encounters.
I know Lot 49 better than Gentleman, but I’m certain a good work could be done on both–just in time for their respective 50th anniversaries.

Inherent Vice movie/novel

Rereading Inherent Vice after seeing the movie and think both are hoots. Jade is the best character in the movie, Doc is the near constant center of the novel. Bigfoot is more sympathetic in the book–the movie dials up his nastiness. The Hope-Coy relationship is truest to both movie and novel. Do wish the movie had the scene where Doc’s parents fall by for a visit–maybe it will be on the DVD.

Bleeding Edge

Thomas Pynchon’s Bleeding Edge is a wild messy book, a riot of puns and silly-sinister event and place names and odd and odderball people up to half or no good, all bunched together on the island of Manhattan, whose most active, vibrant, inquisitive, and gutsy citizen is one Maxine Tarnow, fraud investigator, a single-ish mother of two and an NYC native, a pioneer woman of the 1990s, wise and alert and armed (when she remembers) with a Beretta.

Bleeding Edge starts in spring 2001–we all know what’s coming in late summer–and Maxine finds herself up to her eyebrows in just about every bit of shenanigans New York can throw her way. Like a pair of her Pynchon-predecessors–Oedipa Maas and Frenesi Gates–Maxine is smart and resourceful and caught up in events she can’t walk away from, curious to a fault, wary but never afraid of the dark ends of an unknown passage, alert to the mental fortitude of whomever she is chatting up for information or propulsion to the next level of her excellent adventure.

So what is Bleeding Edge all about? Trails, conspiracies, connections–lots of connections, all leading up to the fateful day. But it’s mostly about Maxine, her fortitude, her empathy and desires, her flighty friendships and strange attractions. And Bleeding Edge is about Pynchon and his brand of relentless fun, which makes a reader guffaw and grin, as the turning and twisting of the plot and prose never stops, never hesitates, never lets up.

Pynchon’s a genius, smart and wicked funny, probably the best at the ‘writes novels for a living’ racket. Bleeding Edge came out in 2013, fifty years after V., his debut, and if this is how he ends his run, well done.