An Open Letter To Thomas Pynchon

The Simpsons
The Simpsons

Listen, Tom. Can I call you Tom? I guess it doesn’t matter what you prefer, does it? Okay, so Tom it is, then. So, Tom. Listen. Never come out of hiding. Stay hidden. Don’t do interviews. Don’t allow your picture to be taken.

Honestly, it would probably be perfectly all right if you came out in the open, did interviews, read in public. We’d all be cool with it. Actually, many of us would probably freak out at the chance to see you in real life. I mean, we wouldn’t be weird or anything. We’d just want to be in your presence. No, that sounds creepy and stalkerish. We’d just want to…satisfy our curiosity.

But many of the people who’d want to see you would only want to see you because for years you didn’t want to be seen. More than simply hiding, you teased the public about your identity. When you won the National Book Award, you sent along a vaudeville comedian to accept it for you. When someone wrote an essay claiming you and J.D. Salinger were one and the same, you responded with, “Not bad. Keep trying.” When you “appeared” on The Simpsons, even your cartoon avatar wore a brown paper bag over his head. When CNN surreptitiously nabbed footage of you walking down a New York City street, you only asked that they mix the clip of you in with those of random other people

So, Tommy (Tommy’s cool, too, right?), let’s not pretend your reclusivity is entirely because of privacy or because you don’t like to be photographed. No, it is just as much a cultivated persona––a persona, I hasten to add, that matches perfectly with the themes of your fiction: paranoia, conspiracy, ambiguity, inconclusiveness. You are, in other words, doing it on purpose.
But you should not give up, Tom. Stay hidden. Please. Here’s why.

The truth is rarely as interesting as we’d like it to be. Conspiracies are no different than religion, astrology, superstition––they all claim that things happen for a reason, that there are connections between all things, that underneath the seeming chaos of existence lies order, structure, purpose.

But that isn’t true. The world is random and haphazard. The only connections that exist are the ones we meld, tenuous though they may be. In other words, Tom, life is not like one of your novels. Or, actually, it is exactly like your novels: everything is crazy and nothing makes sense.

In your unjustly dismissed masterpiece Against the Day, you recount the fascinating story of the Tunguska event. An enormous and mysterious explosion occurred in the sky over the Podkamennaya Tunguska River in Siberia. The sky grew bright and stayed that way for a long time. To many of the indigenous people in the area, it was a miracle, an evil spirit, a harbinger of things to come. It was the kind of amazing rarity that would make one believe that there’s magic in this world. But, Tom, your characters respond to this incredible event in the most human way possible: they get used to it:

It went on for a month. Those who had taken it for a cosmic sign cringed beneath the sky each nightfall, imagining ever more extravagant disasters. Others, for whom orange did not seem an appropriately apocalyptic shade, sat outdoors on public benches, reading calmly, growing used to the curious pallor. As nights went on and nothing happened and the phenomenon slowly faded to the accustomed deeper violets again, most had difficulty remembering the earlier rise of heart, the sense of overture and possibility and went back once again to seeking only orgasm, hallucination, stupor, sleep, to fetch them through the night and prepare them against the day.

Even something as remarkable as a persistently orange sky can’t fully enthrall people with the sheer mystery of existence. Even amazing things can become banal, commonplace, uninteresting. But all of us, Tom, wish life were interesting, full of connections and deliberate significance. That’s why religions are so pervasive, why newspapers still run horoscopes, and why I am still intrigued by your lack of identity.

And, Tom, I don’t want to lose that. As an atheist and skeptic and a cynic, there’s not a lot magic left in the world for me. It’s all randomness we retrospectively suffuse with a meaning that fits what we already believe. But when I look at the covers of your books, when I read the incredible prose within, and when I imagine who you are and how you could possibly stay hidden in such a media-saturated culture, a little pang of giddy excitement still bounces inside of me. I still feel a small drop of magic.

And I know that who you really are would never give me that small drop. Sure, I would be thrilled to hear your voice and see your face, but the thrill would only last a few moments. The mystery you’ve created––in your work and in your life––has spurred me on since I was a kid.

So please, Mr. Pynchon. Tom. Tommy. Thomas. T-Pynch. Stay where you are. Because I need some magic in my life, even if I know it’s really a fiction. Thought Catalog Logo Mark

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