skip to main content
Autograph Letter Signed
January 21, 1974. Two tightly printed pages, on both sides of one sheet of graph paper, written to his friends, authors David [Shetzline] and his wife Mary [M.F. Beal]. Last paragraph written in pencil, including the signature "Love, Tom." A lengthy letter, over 1000 words, to two friends who date back to his college days 15 years earlier. Both Shetzline and Beal were students at Cornell, and a part of the group that came to be known as the "Cornell School" of writers, including Pynchon, Richard Farina, Shetzline and Beal. Shetzline published two novels in the late 1960s -- Heckletooth 3 and DeFord, which is dedicated to the memory of Farina -- and Pynchon wrote blurbs for both of them. Pynchon also wrote a blurb for M.F. Beal's novel, Amazon One, about a group of radical activists of the 1960s. She also wrote what many consider to be the first lesbian/feminist detective novel, Angel Dance. All of these elements come into play in this remarkable letter, which deals with literary matters, political matters, and the correspondents' longtime friendship. Written four months after Gravity's Rainbow was published, the letter sheds light on Pynchon's state of mind in the aftermath of the work of writing that novel. The letter starts out apologizing for writing to them together instead of "one by one but haven't been able to write anything to anybody for a couple years, and will be lucky even to get through this one letter here..." He goes on to tell them that his agent, the legendary Candida Donadio, "turns out to be a closet MF Beal freek [sic] and would really dig to establish contact..." He advises Mary to write to Candida but says "don't ask me what about, though, I can't understand any of this literary stuff" -- a remarkable comment from someone who has just finished writing Gravity's Rainbow. A long paragraph details events in New York City, where he is living, including an "Impeachment Rally" in Greenwich Village. Pynchon is self-consciously disdainful of this round of political activism: "Maybe I am wrong not to show up, after all think of all that great neurotic pussy that always shows up at things like -- oh, aww, gee Mary, I'm sorry! I meant 'vagina,' of course! -- like that, and all the biggies who'll be there..." He goes on to describe that he is having "what the CIA calls a 'mid-life crisis,' looking for another hustle, cannot dig to live a 'literary' life no more..." A "lump of hash I lost somewhere in Humboldt County 3 years ago" figures into what becomes an increasingly textured, complicated narrative, much the way his fiction does, at the same time that it represents his side of an obviously ongoing dialogue, and elicits further contact from the recipients: in referring to stories of bad LSD circulating, he asks "You might as well tell me. How many times'd you end up sucking on the rug?" A dissection of the general state of mind among the self-proclaimed hip in New York City follows, and he waxes nostalgic for the West a couple of times: "Last fall I rode around on the 'Hound for a while. Would've dropped by [their place in northern California] except by the time I got in your neighborhood I was bummed out..." Future "master plan" was "to go across the sea, but now I don't know. I've sort of been keying my plans on Geraldine, part of general resolution not to impose shit on her, also cz I'm lazy and can't make decisions... so maybe we will head west, and then again maybe not, but if we do we'll be by your place, OK?" A remarkable letter, exhibiting all of the characteristics for which Pynchon's writing is known, and many of the concerns that he raises in his writings, and addressed to two of his closest and oldest friends. Pynchon even used Shetzline's name in Gravity's Rainbow: Shetzline was credited with having written the "classic study" of "the property of time-modulation peculiar to Oneidine." Folded in twelfths for mailing, else fine in hand-addressed envelope folded in fourths. Housed in an attractive custom quarter leather clamshell box. In content and style, probably the best Pynchon letter we have ever seen. From the collection of Bruce Kahn. [#911118] SOLD

All books are first printings of first editions or first American editions unless otherwise noted.

See more items by PYNCHON, Thomas