Jump to ratings and reviews
Rate this book

Mason & Dixon

Rate this book
Charles Mason (1728-1786) and Jeremiah Dixon (1733-1779) were the British surveyors best remembered for running the boundary between Pennsylvania and Maryland that we know today as the Mason-Dixon Line. Here is their story as re-imagined by Thomas Pynchon, featuring Native Americans and frontier folk, ripped bodices, naval warfare, conspiracies erotic and political, major caffeine abuse.

We follow the mismatch'd pair—one rollicking, the other depressive; one Gothic, the other pre-Romantic—from their first journey together to the Cape of Good Hope, to pre-Revolutionary America and back, through the strange yet redemptive turns of fortune in their later lives, on a grand tour of the Enlightenment's dark hemisphere, as they observe and participate in the many opportunities for insanity presented them by the Age of Reason.

773 pages, Paperback

First published August 1, 1997

Loading interface...
Loading interface...

About the author

Thomas Pynchon

62 books6,214 followers
Novels, such as Gravity's Rainbow (1973), of American writer Thomas Ruggles Pynchon, often depict individuals, struggling against shadowy technocratic forces.

People note dense and complex works of fiction of Thomas Ruggles Pynchon, Junior, based in city of New York. Hailing from Long Island, Pynchon spent two years in the Navy of the United States and earned an English degree from Cornell University. After publishing several short stories in the late 1950s and early 1960s, he began composing the novels for which he is best known today: V. (1963), The Crying of Lot 49 (1966), Gravity's Rainbow (1973), Vineland (1990), Mason & Dixon (1997), and Against the Day (2006).

Many readers and critics regard Pynchon as one of the finest contemporary authors. He is a MacArthur Fellow and a recipient of the National Book Award, and is regularly cited as a contender for the Nobel Prize in Literature. Both his fiction and non-fiction writings encompass a vast array of subject matter, styles, and themes, including (but not limited to) the fields of history, science and mathematics. Pynchon is also known for his avoidance of personal publicity: people published ever very few photographs and since the 1960s circulated rumors about his location and identity.

Ratings & Reviews

What do you think?
Rate this book

Friends & Following

Create a free account to discover what your friends think of this book!

Community Reviews

5 stars
4,979 (45%)
4 stars
3,367 (30%)
3 stars
1,715 (15%)
2 stars
607 (5%)
1 star
286 (2%)
Displaying 1 - 30 of 1,040 reviews
Profile Image for Geoff.
444 reviews1,234 followers
September 24, 2014
What to say or where to start saying things about this book? Pynchon’s language is unceasingly beautiful; Mason and Dixon are as endearing and animated with pure character as any creations you’ll meet; the book perfectly balances cartoonish absurdity with gently profound melancholy in a rich musical vocabulary; the page is to the prose as air is to music played; the book is inhabited by dream-beings and ghosts and the fantastic, because its realm is pure story; story into story into story; I would want it to go on forever, but it ends in the most perfect stretch of pages; I’ll quote another Goodreads reviewer “Thomas Pynchon just broke my heart”; it stayed with me when it was closed and I mentioned Mason and Dixon, as people, to people I spoke to; I went to the Atlantic Ocean (this really happened three days ago) and saw a sign for a trailer park right as we crossed the border into the Delaware marshes, when the sunset was lighting them all on fire, that read “Mason-Dixon”; secret thrills were given me because I was born and raised in the Old Line State; it perfectly caught like lightning bug light that feeling we have when under the night sky and the stars are bright and numberless and that reminds us of all the space out there for dying or forgetting or for thinking of ages past or passing; because it was long, it felt like reading lifetimes; because it had such depth I lost myself in concentrating on it; it is a perfect novel about friendship; I came across passages of staggering beauty abutting slapstick buffoonery; the book is geminiacal, bipolar, its fabric is opposites, twins, mates, the vast or minuscule space that acts as their boundaries and borders, what separates their bodies and separately gives them form and identity; it is a loping colloquy between Faith and its mate Reason, Free Will and its mate Fate; I read in it that I should make my way West to go with the day, with Time, maturation, aging, having children, the coming of the next generation, the slow fading and dispersal at sunset- and East if I wish to go against the day, into the past, toward morning, the smokeless altars of memory, to youth… where we can’t ever stay for long, because the terrain has started to go missing, there is less firm land under foot to hold and lift us, and our Lines must again resume their inexorable Westerly course...


Profile Image for Andy Marr.
Author 3 books776 followers
January 4, 2023
Easily one of the best books I've ever read. Pynchon's blending together of fact, fiction and fantasy is utterly exquisite, and the characters he has created are unforgettable. It's an absolute beast of a book, but every page was pure magic.
Profile Image for Violet wells.
433 reviews3,219 followers
October 2, 2020
It's constantly awe-inspiring how much mental vitality and agility Pynchon has at his command. Awesome also how extensive and detailed is his research. His immersion in his subject is all-consuming and watertight. It tells the story, in picaresque form, of Charles Mason and Jeremiah Dixon, the British surveyors and astronomers who mapped out the boundary line between Pennsylvania and Maryland in colonial America, the line used to divide the North from the South. In the novel Pynchon takes riotous and sometimes hilarious exception to the validity of any kind of boundary - Mason and Dixon share a bond that sometimes reminds one of Don Quixote and Sancho Panza - though this boundary, of course, is peppered with violent omens. America is very much a central character in this book, and we get a evocatively convincing and insightful depiction of the country's childhood and how its personality was formed.

The narrator of the novel is the Reverend Wicks Cherrycoke sitting with his family around a drawing room fire. More often than not he is recounting incidents he could not possibly know in such detail. Essentially he has virtually no authority to be telling us this story. But this is the lynchpin of Pynchon's jibe at official histories: "Who claims Truth, Truth abandons. History is hir'd, or coerc'd, only in Interests that must ever prove base. She is too innocent, to be left within the reach of anyone in Power,- who need but touch her, and all her Credit is in the instant vanish'd, as if it had never been. She needs rather to be tended lovingly and honorably by fabulists and counterfeiters, Ballad-Mongers and Cranks of ev'ry Radius, Masters of Disguise to provide her the Costume, Toilette, and Bearing, and Speech nimble enough to keep her beyond the Desires, or even the Curiosity, of Government."

I loved all the fun he poked at the recounting of history. Having just finished Hamnet with the strong suspicion that O'Farrell's Agnes bears as little similarity in reality to Shakespeare's wife as I do to Eva Braun I was left with the feeling that to write historical fiction about real people you either have to acknowledge your mischief making and make it a weave of the narrative or perform a kind of all-consuming spiritual possession of your subject. Hilary Mantel succeeded at the latter; Pynchon opts for the former and, in this regard, does a fabulous job.

But this book, more difficult to read than anything I've tackled since Finnegan's Wake, was ultimately just a little too bonkers for my taste. So often it resounds beautifully with poetic authenticity but Pynchon being Pynchon we also get an invisible amorous mechanical duck, a talking dog and a talking clock, giant vegetables, a restless golem, conspiracy theory and alien abduction.
At times, brilliant; at other time times, exhausting, like any long tortuous excursion up towards the realms of thinner air.
Profile Image for Luís.
1,943 reviews606 followers
January 9, 2023
One of the best novels I have read. It is quite a monument of literature, and I think we will realize it when Pynchon dies. Its description quality is fascinating; it details the places and characters so well that one would think of oneself equipped with a camera (somewhat anachronistic) with the honor of being allowed to witness the story as a privileged spectator.
The vibrant and very sharp language is sometimes necessary to call upon the dictionary, and one will not complain about it. But, unfortunately, so many books lower our vocabulary level; for once, I come across one that brings me considerable wealth.
They organize dialogues; they are funny and bring a rhythm, an unusual cadence, and poetic and theatrical. And what humor, when it is not absurd, is ironic and subtle? It is a lovely novel that knows how to combine these two forms of fun; they are so rare.
And what a story, it's a fantastic odyssey, an adventure where many literary genres mix. The book is long, not enough for my taste, too much for many, but I never wanted it to end. I love and hate this feeling; moreover, when I have the impression that I feel like an orphan at the end of the book, I enjoy reading. There it was. I loved it!!!
Profile Image for Ian "Marvin" Graye.
874 reviews2,266 followers
November 24, 2015
All Due Regard to Length

Let's get the length of "Mason & Dixon" out of the way first.

Lauding fiction on the basis of its maximalism alone might gratify those who derive satisfaction from this one feature of big fat books, but it inevitably deters readers who might enjoy the (other) merits of the book.

I was a little apprehensive about the length of this novel when I began. However, the preoccupation with its length obscures what a pleasure it is to read (and why).

Here, Thomas Pynchon gives us the essence of both challenging and rewarding literature, but on a grand scale: immaculate sentence construction, authentic world-building, engaging story-telling and belletristic narrative meta/heterogeneity, all delivered with a sustained Rabelaisian energy and sly quixotic eroticism. Write on, Tom!

Up to His Usual Mischief

Whatever the intellect that went into the construction of this fiction, it's still and always a joy to read. This is what, for me, differentiates Pynchon from his peers. He's fun, playful, cheeky, mischievous, sometimes even outrageous.

From time to time, his work might be matched by John Barth and Robert Coover, but you have to question whether the sheer literary inventiveness of Pynchon's oeuvre as a whole (book for book) could ever be surpassed by any of the other Post-Modern American poster-boys, the ones who continually and hyperblurbally get wheeled out as the Greatest Writer or the Greatest Sentence-Fabricator of their Generation (somebody please remind me why we're always being told who is the Greatest and/or Longest by white male pundits, discoverers, spruikers, list-makers, proclaimers and long lost book club members, when perhaps the word "favourite" would do).

Sometimes it's the way you praise Caesar that buries him.

Surface Breakdown

Yes, it feels like you're holding a compact brick at first.

It's just over 770 pages long, but there are 78 chapters of more or less 10 pages each. Hence, you can read and digest each one quite quickly. Immediately, you want to move onto the next, like links in a chain. No sooner would I look at the page number than I would find I'd read 40 or 50 pages. Pretty soon, I was trying to finish 100 pages a day.

It Was Fun While It Lasted

The language is that of the late 18th century. Sentences are long, but neatly divided by commas and dashes into phrases and clauses that propel you along.

Once you get into the rhythm of the writing, you forget about its archaisms, and you start to recognise and enjoy the abundant wit and humour. It's fun, in anybody's time, space and language. As Pynchon conveys in verse:

While it lasted,
And it lasted,
Quite a while..."

In other words, maximalism is better served with merriment and whimsy than earnestness and self-absorption.


The Mason and Dixon Line

You don't have to know anything about Charles Mason and Jeremiah Dixon to appreciate the novel. Equally, if you learned about them at school and don't want to know any more, then the novel can still be entertaining.

Throughout its expanse, the Mason and Dixon Line is an extended metaphor for the artificial boundaries that divide and conquer people:

"To rule forever, it is necessary only to create, among the people one would rule, what we call...Bad History. Nothing will produce Bad History more directly nor brutally, than drawing a Line, in particular a Right Line, the very Shape of Contempt, through the midst of a People, - to create thus a Distinction betwixt 'em..."

When England colonised America, its proprietorial approach to the Earth (enclosure on the inside, exile on the outside) made a transition to its new colonies.

Mason and Dixon embarked from a still quarrelsome Royal Society in London to solve a boundary dispute between two of the American colonies, by using their combined skills in astronomy and surveying.

Their solution still stands, even though they developed it shortly before the American War of Independence.

While it consisted of lines, barriers and separation, ironically their experience of America was quite the opposite.

Infinite Wilderness

What they, and through them, Pynchon, admire about America is the fact that at the time it was a wilderness that offered infinite challenges and opportunities.

Thus, at its heart, "Mason & Dixon" documents Pynchon's love affair with America. It's a Baroque hymn to the majesty and wonder of a native, unspoiled America.

"Gravity's Rainbow" witnessed Americans discovering the Europe of World War II. In contrast, "Mason & Dixon" consists of two Englishmen exploring and mapping America.

The story might be set in the past, but what Pynchon finds appealing is those parts of the past that are still reflected in the present. Thus, this is equally a love story about the America of the present, and the parts of it that have transitioned or survived from its past.

Separated Not by a Line, but an Ampersand

While there's a long list of characters, Pynchon primarily tells his tale through the eponymous Mason and Dixon (as witnessed and related by an "untrustworthy Remembrancer [nevertheless possessed of] Authorial Authority", the Reverend Wicks Cherrycoke).

They commence as strangers, occasionally have their disagreements, maintain their distance (they "could not cross the perilous Boundaries between themselves", although at the end Mason & Dixon are separated only by an ampersand), become rather fond of each other in an English public school boy way, and end up resolving to become "old Geezers" together.

When finally one is the first to die of old age, the other's son excuses his father's sentimental response:

"It's your Mate. It's what happens when your Mate dies."


The Stars Are So Close

For all their differences, Mason and Dixon are joined by their experience of the American wilderness. For them, it was an adventure, albeit one that took them away from their families for extended periods of time (as does reading the novel!).

Nevertheless, their sense of wonder was infectious, and their children inherited it via their fathers' fantastic story-telling. In the end, it's their children who reiterate to them:

"The Stars are so close you won't need a Telescope. The Fish jump into your Arms. The Indians know Magick. We'll go there. We'll live there. We'll fish there. And you too."

This is an America that above all inspires the imagination, it's a canvas upon which to paint a picture, a sheet of paper upon which not just to draw lines, but to write words and map out visions.

Against the Great Wind of Oblivion

Pynchon captures and verbalises these fantasies, so that they don't just die an ephemeral death:

"How much shapely Expression...is simply fading away upon the Air, out under the Door, into the Evening and the Silence beyond...Why not pluck a few words from the multitudes rushing toward the Void of forgetfulness? [Words which else would have been lost forever to the great Wind of Oblivion.]"

At the same time that the novel eulogises America, it suggests that there's something greater than one nation alone. "Mason and Dixon" is concerned with transition: the Transit of Venus, the transmission of values from one country to another, what occurs between two people(s), the last ferry ride across the River Styx:

"Betwixt themselves, neither feels British enough anymore, nor quite American, for either Side of the Ocean. They are content to reside like Ferrymen or Bridge-keepers, ever in a Ubiquity of Flow, before a ceaseless Spectacle of Transition."

A Great Tangle of Lines

This is the dual significance of the lines that they draw: latitude and longitude represent a flow, a ch'i, an energy force. There is much wisequackery and semi-jocular allusion to ley-lines, meridians and feng-shui (not to mention talking dogs, flying pigs and mechanical ducks):

"Mason and Dixon step out of the Perimeter, into the Wild...lur'd by promises of forbidden Knowledge, in the Care of an inscrutable Druid..."

"Earth, withal, is a Body, like our own, with its network of Points, dispos'd along its Meridians [much like the Human body, where the flow of Chee may be beneficially strengthen'd by insertions of Gold Needles]..."

There is also frequent intimation that Native Americans know something that the Europeans might never:

"What in the Holy Names are these people about?...Is it something in this Wilderness, something ancient, that waited for them, and infected their Souls when they came?"

We, on the other hand, might have lost touch with our past and our ancestors. We need to learn how to draw the line between them again, only a line that joins people rather than separating them:

"...there may ever continue more than one life-line back into a Past we risk, each day, losing our forebears in forever, - not a Chain of single Links, for one broken Link could lose us All, - rather, a great disorderly Tangle of Lines, long and short, weak and strong, vanishing into the Mnemonick Deep, with only their Destination in common."

Fugitive as in a Dream

For Mason and Dixon, there are no grand egotistical dreams of wealth and fame (although you share their frustration at being locked out of membership of the Royal Society).

Theirs is a much more modest manifestation of liberty:

"[We] wish'd but for a middling Life,
Forever in betwixt
The claims of Lust and Duty,
So intricately mix'd, -
To reach some happy Medium,
Fleet as a golden Beam,
Uncharted as St Brendan's Isle,
Fugitive as a Dream."

Mason and Dixon are fugitives from arbitrary lines, boundaries, barriers, distinctions, divisions, divisiveness.

Ultimately, this is why "Mason & Dixon" is not just a story about the 18th century, but an allegory for today.

Profile Image for Paul.
1,217 reviews1,964 followers
October 14, 2022
This is a magnificent novel, immense in its scope. It is not an easy read being set in the eighteenth century; Pynchon uses the language, idiom and spelling of the day. Hence very careful reading is required; it is more Fielding than Richardson. The story involves Jeremiah Dixon and Charles Mason (of Mason/Dixon line fame and follows them from England to South Africa (Transit of Venus) to St Helena, on to America to map the aforesaid line, back to Britain and so on.
Pynchon mixes real historical figures with fantastic creations, oddities, rumour, and myth and in the centre of it all is the portrayal of a friendship in the form of a glorified road movie. The narrator is a Revd Wicks Cherrycoke, an offbeat and slightly disreputable clergyman. The choice of names is truly amazing (anyone met a Mrs Eggslap?).
Historical figures slip in and out of the story; Boswell and Johnson towards the end, Washington (our heroes smoke pot with him), Jefferson, Maskelyne (Astronomer Royal and something of a villain), Franklin and Emerson, to name a few.
The odd and fantastic populate the pages with some abandon. There is a museum devoted to the War of Jenkins Ear (1739, I remember this from A level history); complete with ear. A talking dog pops up on several occasions, as does a talking mechanical duck! The Lambton worm even makes an appearance.
This is a people’s history and Pynchon draws in all levels of society, including slaves and Native Americans, and all have a contribution. America seems full of Jesuits and the Chinese. There is much musing on religion, life after death (Mason sees the ghost of his wife), Feng Shui (I kid you not), lots of Astronomy (as you would imagine), suggestions of alien abduction, myth from a variety of cultures. The part concerning the giant vegetables reminded me of the Biblical story of the promised land flowing with milk and honey, where everything grew prolific(k)ally. Normal human activities also take their place; there is plenty of drinking, carousing, fighting, cooking, eating, sex, seduction and lots and lots of coffee.
The language is stunning and the start of the book is beautiful “Snowballs have flown their Arcs, starr’d the Side of Outbuildings” and so on. Some of the phrasing can be surprising and very clever, “imps of apprehension”.
Pynchon asks lots of interesting philosophical questions; there is a passage about enlightenment and trees linking Adam and Eve, Buddha and Newton. A mere review cannot do this justice and eventually (probably when I retire) I will have to read it again.
At heart it’s a simple tale of two friends and the birth of a nation narrated by Cherrycoke (very American!) and laced with fantastical humour and philosophical musings
Profile Image for Vit Babenco.
1,463 reviews3,614 followers
December 25, 2018
Mason & Dixon is a Christmas story…
Snow-Balls have flown their Arcs, starred the Sides of Outbuildings, as of Cousins, carried Hats away into the brisk Wind off Delaware,— the Sleds are brought in and their Runners carefully dried and greased, shoes deposited in the back Hall, a stockinged-foot Descent made upon the great Kitchen, in a purposeful Dither since Morning, punctuated by the ringing Lids of various Boilers and Stewing-Pots, fragrant with Pie-Spices, peeled Fruits, Suet, heated Sugar,— the Children, having all upon the Fly, among rhythmic slaps of Batter and Spoon, coaxed and stolen what they might, proceed, as upon each afternoon all this snowy Advent, to a comfortable Room at the rear of the House, years since given over to their carefree Assaults. This Christmastide of 1786, with the War settled and the Nation bickering itself into Fragments, wounds bodily and ghostly, great and small, go aching on, not every one commemorated,— nor, too often, even recounted.

Yes, Mason & Dixon is a Christmas tale and as every magnificent Christmas tale should be it is full of adventures, festivity, merriment, mysteries and miracles.
When Brae, once, and only once, made the mistake of both gasping and blurting, “Oh, Aunt,— were you in a Turkish Harem, really?” ’twas to turn a giant Tap. “Barbary Pirates brought us actually’s far as Aleppo, you recall the difficult years of ’eighty and ’eighty-one,— no, of course you couldn’t,— Levant Company in an uproar, no place to get a Drink, Ramadan all year ’round it seem’d,— howbeit,— ’twas at the worst of those Depredations, that I took Passage from Philadelphia, upon that fateful Tide . . . the Moon reflected in Dock Creek, the songs of the Negroes upon the Shore, disconsolate,—” Most of her Tale, disguis’d artfully as traveler’s Narrative, prov’d quite outside the boundaries of the Girl’s Innocence, as of the Twins’ Attention,— among the Domes and Minarets, the Mountain-peaks rising from the Sea, the venomous Snakes, miracle-mongering Fakeers, intrigues over Harem Precedence and Diamonds as big as a girl’s playfully clench’d fist, ’twas Inconvenience which provided the recurring Motrix of Euphrenia’s adventures among the Turks, usually resolv’d by her charming the By-standers with a few appropriate Notes from her Oboe,— upon which now, in fact, her Reed shap’d and fitted, she has begun to punctuate her brother Wicks’s Tale, with scraps of Ditters von Dittersdorf, transcriptions from Quantz, and the Scamozzetta from I Gluttoni.

But Thomas Pynchon recounts Christmas stories his own way so all the escapades and mishaps are peculiarly edgy.
Every incredible tale, even the tallest one, boasts its modicum of truth however.
Profile Image for Michael Finocchiaro.
Author 3 books5,631 followers
September 6, 2021

This was my favorite Pynchon novel. I know most folks will say that Gravity's Rainbow or the more accessible The Crying of Lot 49 were his great works, but I felt that M&D just was such a beautiful story. The coming together of these two most opposite personalities and their adventures across the native forests and rivers and wildernesses that because what we now know as America was compelling and fascinating. I was not bored for a minute but rather was entertained and felt buoyed by the 17th/18th English syntax - it helped me escape and feel I was watching the story as an omniscient observer. In terms of narrative, it is one of the most straightforward of Pynchon's works (and believe me, that is saying something for one of this length!), and has a great host of characters and high-flying adventures of all sorts. Perhaps, if you have never read Pynchon, this one may be too big a chunk to chew on for the first time (perhaps Lot 49 would be more appropriate), but once you have that one and or GR under your belt, don't deprive yourself of the joy of reading Mason&Dixon.
Profile Image for J.
80 reviews151 followers
November 6, 2008
Bored with the Edna St Vincent Millay of Savage Beauty and tired of the endless formality of complete names in Love in the Time of Cholera, I fished Thomas Pynchon’s Mason and Dixon out of the box it came in weeks ago. Sat down, stirring sugar into the tea I intended to drink while I read, and dropped my spoon.

Page 1: What kind of madness is this?? Oh My God. I’m tingly. No, this is not erotica. I don’t think. I don’t know what it is. But I think I like it. A lot. Dear God. Is the whole thing like this? I can’t tell if I love it or hate it. If it goes on this way till the end I may come to loathe it.

Page 773: Yes. This (thus far) lovely torture is intended to continue. And yes. I read the last page. What of it? With writing like this I’m unlikely to remember it more than seven hundred pages from now anyway.

First sentence, I kid you not:

Snow-balls have flown their Arcs, starr’d the Sides of Outbuildings, as of Cousins, carried Hats away into the brisk Wind off Delaware, - the Sleds are brought in and their Runners carefully dried and greased, shoes deposited in the back Hall, a stocking’d-foot Descent made upon the great Kitchen, in a purposeful Dither since Morning, punctuated by the ringing Lids of various Boilers and Stewing-Pots, fragrant with Pie-Spices, peel’d Fruits, Suet, heated Sugar, - the Children, having all upon the Fly, among rhythmic slaps of Batter and Spoon, coax’d and stolen what they might, proceed, as upon each afternoon all this snowy Advent, to a comfortable Room at the rear of the House, years since given over to their carefree Assaults.

I am speechless.
Profile Image for Sue.
1,271 reviews548 followers
September 23, 2015
I have wanted to read this book for a long time...and it definitely lived up to anything I could have hoped for. Actually, I never could have imagined the novel as it actually exists. This is a combination of 18th century history, fantasy, a dollop of things magical and mysterious, a touch of poetry, astronomy and possibly astrology. Just about everything is present in this large novel. It's grand in all senses of the word.

I will acknowledge that this may not be for every reader but those who like an epic, enjoy historical fiction with the add-ons I mention above will have a reading experience unlike any other. If you read through my status updates, you will get a flavor of the dialect used and some of the story. I really can't give you adequately a taste of the outrageous humor and vignettes sprinkled throughout this novel, but, believe me, some of them are laugh-out-loud funny. Particularly "the duck." Anyone who has read Mason & Dixon will never forget this very different fowl!

The vision of international and American colonial history immediately prior to the revolution is fascinating. What else is there to say. Well, I made the decision early on to read the book slowly and this worked well for me. Some sections read more quickly than others and I read this in company with other books. I came to look forward to returning to it and picking up Charles and Jeremiah's journeys to track the Transit of Venus, to perform various surveys, and then for their ultimate task, the line that is still marked and which I recall crossing on a trip several years ago.

This is highly recommended to those who enjoy an epic with a very definite difference!
Profile Image for Infinite Jen.
87 reviews426 followers
March 26, 2023
From the vault of James O. Incandenza.

The Fantastical Fractionated by a Freudian Feng Shui: Liaison of Lines. Year of the Character Limit Neural Prosthetic Alert Device. Mixed Martial Arts Eschaton tournament expressing ideological hostilities along lines of rational and romantic interest, taking place in assiduously reconstructed, and still highly flammable, library of Alexandria. w/color commentary from Rev Wicks Cherrycoke (Quantum Superposition of Joe Rogan Deep Within Blackbox Sensory Deprivation Chamber) (Joe Rogan)) and The Human Torch (Johnny Storm (Joe Rogan)); 35mm; running length approximate to the amount of time necessary for a sole victor to emerge; full color w/ visceral olfactory enhancement courtesy of accompanying scratch and sniff anatomical figurine; full sound with live orchestra performing O Fortuna; conducted by Venerabilis Inceptor aka Doctor Invincibilis (Sir William of Ockham). Filmed before a live studio audience consisting of one half loquacious, emotionally incontinent, spoken word poetry addicts and one half, abstraction addled, lugubrious, pure mathematics professors, all armed with climbing pitons, later distributed through samizdat style Zip drives; by former disgruntled employees of the Kellogg’s corporation who were fed up with the myth of breakfast.

*Orchestra commences on signal from gentle bratwurst susurrus*

“O Fortune,
like the moon
you are changeable,
ever waxing
ever waning;
hateful life
first oppresses
and then soothes
playing with mental clarity;
and power
it melts them like ice.”

Reverend Cherrycoke (Quantum Superposition of Joe Rogan Deep Within Blackbox Sensory Deprivation Chamber) (Joe Rogan)) is wheeled into officiating position by several muscular individuals wearing only executioner hoods and athletic cups (Hafþór Júlíus Björnsson, Mark William Calaway, Jocko Willink, Gene Lebell (played by David Hasselhoff)). Obsidian sensory deprivation chamber looms. An unsettling obelisk. It’s shadow bifurcating the gladiatorial spectacle.

Pan to melee on library floor. Benjamin Franklin (Stellan John Skarsgård) executes flying arm bar on Alfred, Lord Tennyson (Tim Curry) who is heard above the din to say: “Fye Thee to Timbuktu, Wretched Lech!” Before his arm bends impossibly with a sickening crack. “Break! Break! Break!” Screeching like a grave wight and pantomiming actions with injured arm resembling deboned fish. Nearby, Alexander Pushkin (Hugh Jackman), roars into the fray and discombobulates Walt Whitman (Sean Connery), who he mistook for Karl Marx, (Rubeus Hagrid (Robbie Coltrane) (Body Doubled by Martin Bayfield))), with a vicious running lariat to the back of the neck, sending the man sprawling to the Bibliotheca’s floor like a sack of pubic cement. Sensing his mistake, Pushkin (Jackman) veers into housings of ancient papyrus in bizarre act of contrition.

Revered Cherrycoke (QSJRDWBSDC (JR)): If our ontological commitments are to remain commensurate with the progress of scientific reasoning, we must hereby renounce all boundaries as purely arbitrary fictions! For is it not the case that all matter is a result of fluctuations in fields which permeate space like a cosmic mandolin? And we, condensed forms of vibrational virtuosity, represent fixed oscillations of catgut, seemingly discrete, but actually continuous with the whole of the universe’s beautiful melody? Tis only our amplitudes, and only for a short while at that, which peaks here and now. A stubbornly persistent illusion of solidly, wouldn’t you say Mr. Storm?

The Human Torch (Johnny Storm (Joe Rogan): “The blood-dimmed tide is loosed, and everywhere the ceremony of innocence is drowned!” Hahahahahaha!

“Fate – monstrous
and empty,
you whirling wheel,
you are malevolent,
well-being is vain
and always fades to nothing,
and veiled
you plague me too;
now through the game
I bring my bare back
to your villainy.”

Wordsworth (Patrick Stewart) and Thomas Jefferson (Mario Lopez) tumble to the ground and engage in a Brazilian Jujitsu chess match, with Wordsworth (Stewart) trying and failing to secure a triangle choke, opting instead for an attempted arm bar. Lopez, with great strength (and arguably an unfair advantage in terms of age and wrestling background) lifts Wordsworth (Stewart) from the floor and slams him violently back down, knocking over a brazier in the process. Hot coals tumbling. Emily Dickson (Maureen Ponderosa (Catherine Reitman)), having been scalded by embers, shouts mysterious invective: “Hooptitously Drangle Me In Crinkly Brundlewurddles!” Losing concentration and receiving a radium enriched spinning back fist from Marie Curie (Ronda Rousey).

Revered Cherrycoke (QSJRDWBSDC (JR)): And so here we are, both discrete and continuous, as we are persuaded most ardently to believe by the mystifying results of the Double Slit Experiments. And yet, do we not consider ourselves a Doric column of stability? Do we not parse our experience as like unto peas and not potatoes of the mashed variety? This systemic error that we commit, a heuristic which delineates the objects of the world with a paucity of percept...

The Human Torch (Johnny Storm (Joe Rogan) using his combustive body to light a duBois starts violent reaction with particulates in the air.

“Fate is against me
in health
and virtue,
driven on
and weighted down,
always enslaved.
So at this hour
without delay
pluck the vibrating strings;
since Fate
strikes down the strong,
everyone weep with me!”

This book is Pynchon making sweet love to the primeval wilderness of America afore the people fully discharged their Cartesian climax across the face of her doe-eyed map in a bukkake-balkanization-sesh. ‘Ole Tom is diving deep into primordial waters with his gooch clenched tightly with eukaryotic enthusiasm, while maintaining, along the taint, a stiff prokaryotic posture. Examining the nature of boundaries and their porousness. This is Pynchon doling out such perfect prose that, if you’re one to ensconce your favorite little ditties in neon mnemonics, will have your book resembling the aftermath of a Crayon Krakatoa. How someone can manage to produce a work of such mirth, mayhem, and melancholy without it collapsing like a failed chimera with an orangutan’s face where its pelvic bowl should be, I can’t begin to say. Though my running theory is that it’s a result of monozygotic magic in which, having reabsorbed the spiritual essence of his potential sibling, Tom was able to bedevil Beelzebub with a twofer and thus gain the square of a normal bargain. Pynchon, in addition to bringing the big dick maximalist energy to his work, is also not afraid to do what is unthinkable to many of the cock diesel chordate phylum who relieve themselves by encephalizing a book until the binding girth is sufficient to delimit the realms of Middle Earth - be entertaining - Tom is nuttier than a fucking mud-bug and nary a bit shy about displays of eroticism so egregious that it has left certain Victorian sexualities so seminally scarred that they’ve took to eating cat food, huffing glue, and chugging beer in ritualized quantities in a sad attempt to regain a cerebral chastity long absconded.

If you enjoy gorgeous writing, then this 18th century/idiosyncratic styled work of genius will wallop you with every page, and would be worth the price of admission just for the prose experience alone. But if you also love absurd humor. Amazing characterization. Deep metaphors entwined with dick jokes. And moving experiences which will stay with you long after you’ve lost control of your bladder. Then, in the immortal words of a stranger who once said to me (after seeing me eating a giant chocolate chip cookie) -

“Buddie, get’che a bite ‘o the middle, ‘ats where it’s at.”
Profile Image for Michael.
Author 2 books1,356 followers
May 12, 2017
Pynchon has been, for me, an acquired taste, but like fine wine, once you acquire it, you wonder how you missed the beauty for so long. Sure, there are still moments (mostly the jokey ones) that I find a bit flat, but here in Mason & Dixon, his first work after a long publishing hiatus, Pynchon is at his best. It's written in a made-up "Olde Style" of writing (it's impossible to do it justice in a review), but it actually works. At least it worked for me. I found the story utterly engrossing and a real intellectual joyride.
Profile Image for Hugh.
1,272 reviews49 followers
October 24, 2020
This is only my second Pynchon novel, after Gravity's Rainbow, and it shares some of the same characteristics, but in some ways is a much more polished work. Once again it is a brillantly erudite mixture of fact and entertaining fantasy, and the story of Mason and Dixon, the two English surveyors who fixed the lines defining Maryland's borders with Delaware and Pennsylvania that still bear their names, is one which is full of fascinating historical details but uncertain enough to offer the license Pynchon needed for his wilder inventions.

The style is interesting - a pastiche of 18th century fiction which is surprisingly easy to read, mostly because the archaisms and occasional neologisms are used sparingly, either to describe technical aspects or for comic effect, and the words which are now spelled differently are familiar enough to follow.

The book is mostly narrated by the facetiously named Reverend Wicks Cherrycoke, as a fantastic tale to entertain his young nephews and nieces, in 1786. Pynchon places Cherrycoke in a role similar to that which Boswell performed for Johnson, a neutral but not entirely reliable observer of events he plays little part in.

The story is mostly chronological. The first part Latitudes and Departures, starting in 1761 with the pair's first joint expedition to observe the Transit of Venus. The planned destination Sumatra is abandoned after a sea battle with France, leaving them to conduct their observations from Cape Town, where they first meet the narrator. After this they sail to St Helena, where Mason meets the future Astronomer Royal Nevil Maskelyne and assists him in his observations of lunar distance.

The second part America accounts for more than half of the book, and covers their adventures in America from 1763 to 1768, and the short final part Last Transit summarises what happened after they returned to Britain.

The factual framework tells only a small part of the story, as Pynchon throws in all kinds of ideas and fantasies - peripheral characters include Vaucauson's mechanical duck, a Learned Dog, a golem, an electric eel, a Swedish axeman Stig who relates stories of the Vikings in Vineland and a mysterious Chinese adventurer Zhang, along with alien abductions, a hollow earth and some anachromistic 20th century theories on ley lines, all of which satirise and deliberately question the accuracy of what is normally accepted as the historical record. The prose story is leavened with quotes from a fictional verse epic, Timothy Tox's Pennsylvaniad, and occasional returns to Cherrycoke's family as he tells the tale.

Having said that the book is fairly easy to read, I did find myself looking up quite a lot of words, at least two of which were invented by Pynchon - my partial list included calathumpian, cilia, corf, desuperpollicate, dodman, elutriation, enigmata, fuliginous, levigation, loxodromic, machicolation, mephitic, mucilaginous, nidor, pollication, pygephanous, quaquaversal, quotinoctian, ridotto, stichomythia and stob.

I'll finish with a quote in which the blunt Northern Quaker Dixon describes himself and Mason:
"Thy uncritical Worship of Kings, with my inflexible Hatred of 'em, taken together, we equal one latter-day English Subject.
Profile Image for Maciek.
567 reviews3,410 followers
January 30, 2013
Charles Mason (1728-1786) and Jeremiah Dixon (1733-1779) were British astronomers and surveyors, most famous for journeying to North America to resolve the boundary dispute between British colonies of Maryland and Pennsylvania. Their work took four years - from 1763 to 1767 - and the result became known as the Mason-Dixon line, which today stands as the cultural boundary between the northern and southern American states. The duo inspired the reclusive Thomas Pynchon to write this novel, which in turn inspired Mark Knopfler to write one of hist best known songs, the beautiful Sailing to Philadelphia.

To summarize this rolllicking and picaresque novel about two surveyors in pre-revolutionary America is a pointless task; unlike the Mason-Dixon line it is occupied with defying boundaries, and exploring contrasts. It is certainly a remarkable book, deserving attention for its prose alone: it is written entirely in a style which borrows works written in the 18th century, and yet remains uniquely its own; strange spelling variants and everpresent capitalization abound in its long and dense sentences, each meliticulously crafted with great attention - enormous effort went into writing this one, and it's difficult to resist mimicking it in personal correspondence. It's really a joy to read on textual level alone - to see the words, the way they're written and the sentences they form, and how the sentences combine to form a narrative.

Although the novel begins with Mason's and Dixon's voyage to the Cape Colony in South Africa, where they observe the transfer of Venus - and in the meantime encounter a talking Norfolk terrier, who calls himself "The Learned English Dog" (and is a character whom I felt was grossly underused) and the Cape family of Vrooms, which seems to be composed entirely of nymphomaniacs - it is not until their arrival in colonial America where the reader is exposed to a galore of, well, everything. The novel itself is like a new and yet unexplored country: untamed and wild with danger, but rich with promise and opportunity. The reader becomes an explorer of this land: he has to create a map of a narrative to serve as a guide through the wilderness of ideas.

Mason & Dixon explores dualism and dualities, and its ideas are like hot and cold currents. Each idea and theme is accompanied with an opposite, and the novel is focused on exploration of boundaries between them: how such boundaries come into being, how they are crossed and how the two different entities mix with one another, and how the boundaries which held them separate eventually disappear - and what is the result of all this. The still present elements of the mystic are contrasted with the age of reason and enlightement; melancholic and meditative Mason is contrasted with jovial and euphoric Dixon, and like Laurel and Hardy or Don Quixote and Sancho Pansa they venture to explore the weird frontier of America, where they meet a selection of historical characters, which at the time were not famous - but in history they will be: Benjamin Franklin of Philadelphia, who enjoys being accompanied by women of suspicious reputation and entertains his guests with conversation; George Washington of Virginia, who is partial to smoking hemp and munching on cookies baked by his wife, Martha, and enjoys being entertained by Gershom, his wisecracking slave servant; Thomas Jefferson is in the right place to overhear Dixon's toast to the "pursuit of happiness", and ask if he might borrow it.
The colonies are contrasted with a nation at the height of its imperial powers - growing differences in ways of thinking and hostility to the governing power will lead to a war, and eventually gain them independence. Jefferson, Washington and Franklin, among others, will form a nation of their own - one where all men are created equal, and can enjoy life, liberty and pursue their happiness, and view the destiny of their nation to spread these values beyond the thirteen colonies, from coast to coast. These noble ideas are in turn contrasted with reality and the way they're implemented - the effective theft of a continent from its native inhabitans - forced removals, killing and disregard for their life and happiness. How can it be the land of the free where all men are created equal, when its liberty and prosperity will be built with the hands of enslaved people, captured and brought there from another continent? The work of Mason and Dixon - the physical definition of boundaries in America - is at the same time an act of creation and division of the country; as the boundary between the frontier and civilization shrinks, one of the characters remarks that "Nothing will produce Bad History more directly nor brutally, than drawing a line". These words prove to be prophetic, as it the Mason-Dixon line will serve as a division between the North and South, and will split the infant nation in two and catapult it into the bloody civil war. The Mason-Dixon line can be seen as the symbolic line that started the uncountable dividing lines which put boundaries across America; the line of income inequality, of racial division and fear - turning the grand Cities into a dangerous frontier populated by various minorities, and forcing white settlers to flee to the safety of the suburbs.

The unsung hero of this tale is the reverend Wicks Cherrycoke (Ha Ha! Get it?), who is the narrator of the novel and tells the story of Mason and Dixon to his family in Philadelphia, in 1786 - 21 years after they finished their line. The narration, too, is dualistic - the narrated events take place before the American Revolution, and there is an enormous sense of it brewing - but are narrated from a perspective of ten years after the event. The book both anticipates the Revolution - and contemplates upon it.
Cherrycoke is a clergyman of questionable theology and a shameless moocher, sponging off his relatives who agreed to let him stay with them as long as he keeps their children entertained - if he won't perform then out with him to the streets ruled by harsh Philadelphia winter! Reverend Cherrycoke tells his tales to the twins, Pitt and Pliny - as it could not be agreed which one was born first, so each got a choice to be called "Elder" or "Younger" - who have heard him spin yarns about the faraway Indies and the faraway land of Hottentots, and request a tale about America. Cherrycoke claims to have met Mason and Dixon and accompanied them on a number of occasions, and tells the twins their story - which he liberally spices up with a heavy dose of invention, often describing events he couldn't have seen and people he has never met. Since his staying in the warm Philadelphia home depends completely on satisfaction of his listeners, Cherrycoke often changes his story according to their demands; jumping from one character to the other, using more action and fantastical elements to satisfy the boys - including a nod to the Canadian poet James McIntyre and a dramatization of his Ode on the Mammoth Cheese, stories of an amorous mechanical duck (which was based on a real invention - Jacques de Vaucanson's
The enormous lenght and many, many tangents of Mason and Dixon might discourage many readers, it remains highly readable and will benefit from revisiting. Although the honor of being Thomas Pynchon's best book is commonly bestowed upon Gravity's Rainbow, I would argue that Mason & Dixon is an equal, if not better, candidate for the title. It's an ambitious epic which is a show of satire and farce and mixes the fantastic with the historic to great results, filled with countless puns and jokes, with characters randombly breaking into bawdy songs. With all that, it is also a work of melancholy: ruminations on the lost influence of mysticism and religion - and imagination as well. The loss of the final frontier and man's conquer of the beauty of wilderness and is subsequent replacement with contemporary civilization - endless streams of condos, parking lots and shopping malls. In a country found on unity and cooperation, Red and Blue powers take sway over land and people, each trying to grasp more than the other.
But all this is seems like just a background to a simple story: one of two unlikely friends going on an adventure. The growing warmth between Mason and Dixon and the bond they form is presented with genuine affection and they become real, and so do their hopes, feelings and dreams, provoking genuine emotions. The final chapters, where we see them for one last time in their old age, are particularly touching.

I don't think that any review could do this novel true justice: there are simply too many ideas, themes, gags and jokes that academic essays could be written on it - and were. As for me, I can only give 5 stars for the novel and 5 stars for the novelist who had the balls to write it, first thinking of it in 1975 and finally publishing it in 1997, when he turned 60. Approach without fear: there is much to be found and savored here, and time spent on reading it is definitely time not lost.
Profile Image for Mattia Ravasi.
Author 5 books3,551 followers
December 26, 2016
Video-review: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=NBxFK...
Featured in my Top 20 Books I Read in 2016: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=4X6OQ...

Pynchon's most ambitious novel might very well be his masterpiece - a flawless pastiche of 18th Century language, compelling characters, wondrous adventures and brainy reflections, everything soaked in Pynchon's trademark mixture of high&low, serious&ridiculous, bitterness&hope. Not especially easy and not a good starting point with Pynchon, but truly a must read if you're into either
-Contemporary Lit
-18th Century Lit
-Imaginative Fiction
Profile Image for Stian.
86 reviews130 followers
October 18, 2020
First read 15. May - 1. June, 2014.
Reread from 1. July - 14. July, 2018.

This time around the silly puns and references, like Bill Clinton's non-inhaling and whatnot, though funny, took the back-seat to the delightful atmosphere and remarkable writing. This book is a rollicking, fun, and just absolutely refreshingly charming novel. Nevermind all the fun and hilarious puns and situations and ridiculous and fantastical things that occur, not to mention all the historical characters that (obviously and necessarily) appear in historically distorted ways, all of which are hilarious and great and wonderful,-- here, Pynchon evokes smells and images and feelings of coffee, tea, stuffed and smoke-filled pubs and bars filled with various and diverse characters and charlatans and sailors and humans and talking dogs and werewolves and humans-turned-into-aggressive-beavers, winter- and Christmastime, spices and herbs, summer and discovery (reminding one of Ishmael's quote: "As for me, I am tormented with an everlasting itch for things remote. I love to sail forbidden seas, and land on barbarous coasts")--; the atmosphere of dreary journeys across both the seas and of various landscapes followed by the magical moments of arrival and reprieval before further hardships, described in the greatest prose I have come across as only Pynchon can write,-- a glorious novel about friendship and memory and love and life,-- where the essential undertone appears to be, don’t take any of this seriously because none of us gets out of it alive.
This enchanting novel is the first one that pops into my head when people ask me, “what’s the best book you have ever read?”

Original review from 2014 below:

I am Jeremiah Dixon
I am a Geordie boy
A glass of wine with you, sir
And the ladies I'll enjoy
All Durham and Northumberland
Is measured up by my own hand
It was my fate from birth
To make my mark upon the earth.

He calls me Charlie Mason
A stargazer am I
It seems that I was born to chart the evening sky
They'd cut me out for baking bread
But I had other dreams instead
This baker's boy from the west country
Would join the Royal Society.

I was listening to one of my favourite albums of all time ( Sailing To Philadelphia ) when I got the idea that maybe I should read some more Pynchon. I read Inherent Vice some time ago and found it to be pretty fun. Having recently bought most of his books, I was wondering which one to read next. I wanted to (and still will) wait with Gravity's Rainbow, but the rest of his works were all interesting. Just as I was about to pick out Vineland, I hear the beautiful guitar picking of an F# chord from Mark Knopfler, an Aadd9 (or something like that) and then some sort of E-chord... and then the singing begins -- which is quoted at the top here. And that was that: Mason & Dixon it is!

(After having read about 200 pages, I came across an interview with Knopfler where he talked about this album, and it turns out the song is in fact inspired by the book. For some reason this made me terribly happy...)

The book itself is a tough nut to crack. It's written in the style of the time it's set it: 1761-1786. We follow the melancholic Mason and the life-loving Dixon as they meet up in Portsmouth, journey to see the transit of Venus, and then eventually go to America to draw their line. The book is chock-full of references and allusions -- there is even a reference to Bill Clinton's pot-smoking (but of course not inhaling!), a possible reference to Flowers for Algernon, and a cool little reference (I think) to Ray Charles's song What'd I say. Of course tons more.

It's also filled with odd and often hilarious occurrences. They meet up and smoke marijuana with George Washington; they meet a skirt-chasing Benjamin Franklin; and they meet a talking dog called the Learned English Dog. And then there is some talk of gigantic vegetables and possible giants...? I think. I'm not sure. Oh, and did I mention the mechanical duck that suddenly springs to life and apparently gets supernatural powers and then occasionally terrorises our two heroes?

The book is described on the cover as a "rollicking picaresque tale... playful, erudite and funny." I think that's a pretty succinct way to describe it. It's fun to read, albeit challenging and awfully dense at times.

I also came across this on wikipedia, and thought I could add it to my review:

"John Krewson, writing for The Onion's A. V. Club observed, "Whatever meanings and complex messages may lie hidden in Pynchon's text can, for now, be left to develop subconsciously as the reader enjoys the more immediate rewards of the work of a consummate storyteller. Pynchon is one, and he never quite lets you forget that while this might be an epic story, it's an epic story told to wide-eyed children who are up past their bedtime."

PS: You can hear the song I referred to in the beginning here:

PPS, 03.07.2015:

It's been over a year since I read this, and I don't think there are any other books out there that I think of with such fond memories as I do of this one. Retrospectively, I'm tempted to say that this is my all-time favourite book -- trumping even The Brothers Karamazov. The more I think about this book, the more I love it. It helps, of course, that I still love the Knopfler song, and listen to it several times a week. At every listen, it evokes the same feelings as the book did. It's amazing when works of art go hand in hand like that.
Profile Image for Håkon.
34 reviews48 followers
May 24, 2021
Holy fuck it's so fucking good and beautiful and heartbreaking and ambitious

Mason & Dixon the novel, is a giant, madly ambitious portrait of the lives of Charles Mason and Jeremiah Dixon, two British Surveyors/astronomers, most famous for their Mason-Dixon line, as a resolution to the border-dispute between Maryland, Pennsylvania and Delaware; currently functioning as a symbolic representation of the line separating the North and South.

The language of the book is written in a beautiful 18th century pastiche, oozing with a wonderful sense of adventure and potential, portraying the world with the optimism of the times. Dichotomously, there are also sections of great melancholy, especially when relating the haunted internal landscapes of Charles Mason.

Pynchon's novel takes us to the Dutch Cape in South Africa, to the City of Jamestown on the Island of St. Helena, to America, and to the North-Cape of Norway. Most of it takes place in America. Our titular characters meet George Washington, Benjamin Franklin, William Emerson, and other less known yet important historical figures. Pynchon ingeniously blends fact and fiction. While we meet with the great political and scientific figures of the age, we also meet fantastical creatures and geographical vistas; talking dogs, a Clay Golem, Underground elves of the Hollow-Earth, a giant flying duck-automaton, Zepho the Beaverman, and the haunting spirit of Rebekah. This blend is a perfect postmodern amalgam of the tension between Reason and Superstition, that so very much defined the age they were living in. 

There are wonderful and enlightening sections in the book on truth and on history, asking questions about what truth is, and what we can know to be true about history, and history's function in our day-to-day lives. There are meditations on love and death and dreams. There are speculations about religion, man's need to explore the world, technology or "automata", aliens, about the Hollow-earth theory, and about ancient arcane civilizations existing on earth before us. There are sections on 18th century politics, on religion, about hedonism and about capitalism. There are heartbreaking and shocking reflections on slavery, colonialism and the Native Americans. 
Most importantly, there are reflections on America. The violence of America. The potential of America. The spirit and magic of America. 

“Does Britannia, when she sleeps, dream? Is America her dream?-- in which all that cannot pass in the metropolitan Wakefulness is allow'd Expression away in the restless Slumber of these Provinces, and on West-ward, wherever 'tis not yet mapp'd, nor written down, nor ever, by the majority of Mankind, seen,-- serving as a very Rubbish-Tip for subjunctive Hopes, for all that may yet be true,-- Earthly Paradise, Fountain of Youth, Realms of Prester John, Christ's Kingdom, ever behind the sunset"

It is also about how America is used and abused by the giant mechanistic governments of modernity, of mapping, of the unending material need to create borders, serving governments' needs for continual progression. It is about how individuals' desire to explore, to search for meaning and transcendence in the unknown (certainly in the case of Mason and Dixon), is used as tools for governments to perpetrate evil, to abolish the sacred, and to rob people of their land. For what purpose? The purpose of modernity, of trade, of colonialism and slavery, of simplification, of power; a double-edged sword; a creator of progress, technology and wealth, at the cost of so much suffering, and at the cost of the magical and the beautiful. 

"changing all from subjunctive to declarative, reducing Possibilities to Simplicities that serve the ends of Governments,-- winning away from the realm of the Sacred, its Borderlands one by one, and assuming them unto the bare mortal World that is our home, and our Despair.”

There is a heartbreaking chapter about the 1763 Conestoga Massacre. The murder of 20 Susquehannock, portraying violence as something intrinsic to America: 

"He sees where blows with Rifle-butts miss'd their Marks, and chipp'd the Walls. He sees blood in Corners never cleans'd. Thankful he is no longer a Child, else might he curse and weep... What in the Holy Names are these people about? Not even the Dutchmen at the Cape behav'd this way. Is it something in this Wilderness, something ancient, that waited for them, and infected their souls when they came?"

As a general tendency of Pynchon's postmodern sensibilities, and an interweaving of high and low culture, a lot of the contents of the book can be seen visually in various forms of modern pop-culture in various Hollywood films and video-games. The epic sea-battles and sea-travels reminds me of Peter Weir's 2003 film "Master and Commander". The whole book has a very adventury RPG feel with various fantastical elements and a large cast of weird and interesting characters, that make me think of the adventurisms of the Elder Scrolls games. The pervading meditations on arcane, highly technological civilizations of old, and of cryptic treasures and vistas not easily accessible, make me think of the Assassin's creed Franchise, specifically relating to the Isu, an in-game ancient civilization responsible for the creation of the "pieces of Eden".

I also thought I'd add: There is a chapter where Dixon takes what seems to me like a Terence McKenna-esque DMT trip through the North-Pole portal, to meet the arcane machine elves of the Hollow Earth, who are apparently watching "over" mankind from the center of the earth (no I'm not kidding, and I love that I'm not kidding).

What pervades most clearly in Mason & Dixon, and in many of Pynchon's other books, is what I would call an empathy of historical reality and of historical existence. That is, that every individual lives within an historical context, that this shapes their beliefs, their choices, what they value, and what they consider to be true. This also means that external political and social institutions control their lives to a large degree. Pynchon's novels often revolve around individuals attempting to navigate existence as historical beings, often attempting to rebel against the grand historical institutions of the time, sometimes successfully, sometimes not.

On a simpler, yet perhaps even more important level, Pynchon's novel is a coming-of-age story. It is about the young idealism and adventurism of our protagonists at the beginning of their surveys, to their old age of regrets and nostalgic meditations on things done, people and places touched, and people and places they have been touched by. It is about the mortal human's search for meaning through ultimate revelations.

What is obvious is that Pynchon is a giant geek who has done a lot of drugs. His prose is extremely unique. His characters have heart. He is very difficult but extremely rewarding. He is a master-craftsman, developing an interesting vocabulary, a beautiful adventurous aesthetic, drawing reoccurring thematic lines all across his book. Most importantly, Pynchon shows us a bit of everything he has up his sleeve; his fantastic sense of humor, his extreme intellect, his near encyclopedic knowledge of niche political and social realities of the 18th century, his giant heart, his creative and childish faculties for fantasy and speculation, in the end weaving itself into an enormous mosh-pit of beautiful, hilarious, melancholic, hearbreaking, speculative and straight-up insane goodness. It is just so god damn incredible. 

Mason & Dixon is a damn near perfect novel, especially considering its sheer ambition and size.
Profile Image for nastya .
448 reviews287 followers
August 14, 2022
My first acquaintance with Pynchon. And it’s been an incredible ride I’ll remember for a long time.

It wasn't love at first sight, oh no. First 200 pages were a confusing, excruciating chore I had to push through. Ok, I might be a bit of a drama queen, let's just say I was bored. Up until returning to England and before getting commissioned to America.

But then we met the brutal wondrous land of freedom and possibilities, America, the land of magickal were-beavers, Giants with their giant marijuana plants and eccentric travelers, pioneers. The land of suffering and ugliness west and south of the Line.
And all of it encountered through the bunch of episodic stories told by a campfire. Or a fireplace.

There’s just so much in this book that I struggle to put down in words. On the scene we've got a fantastic duo, Mason & Dixon, melancholick & cheerful; tidy & messy, etc etc. And their scene is a virginal wild America of dreams where everything is possible even if it’s a romantic phantasmagorikcal view of the continent. “Dr. Johnson says that all History unsupported by contemporary Evidence is Romance”

Yet at the same time, silently parallel to the Pleasantries of teamwork, runs their effort to convince themselves that whatever they have left upon the last ridge-top, just above the last stone cairn, as if left burning, as if left exhibited in chains before the contempt of all who pass, will find an end to its torment, and fragment by fragment across the seasons be taken back into the Tales preserv’d in Memory, among Wind-gusts, subterranean Fires, Over-Creatures of the Wild, Floods and Freezes . . . until one day ’twill all be gone, re-assum’d, only its silence left there to be clamor’d into by something else, something younger, without memory of, or respect for, what was once, across the third Turning of Dunkard Creek, brought to a halt.

And there's the great smart man Pynchon himself, his brain is a bottomless well of information it seems, with superb mental agility and fantastick sense of humor. This book is full of facts and references and I’m sure I missed a lot. Oh well, maybe next time? All weaved into an engaging story by a master storyteller. Made me wistful for the America of yore. Masterfully done.
Profile Image for Nathan "N.R." Gaddis.
1,342 reviews1,370 followers
October 27, 2020
First read this Thome back about twenty years ago. Felt like a total failure I did. Didn't feel at all I understood what I was reading. Not to be too hard on myself, this was a time almost counting as pre=reading for me. I just hadn't started reading the serious stuff yet. At any rate, never really felt like I could count this one as 'read'. And but so I picked it up again last August to try to notch that feather properly in my cap. Nope. Brain was not working at the time. Now but this time this year brain was functioning. Really, more than average, this seems a book that needs its pattern to at least approximate the functioning of the reader's brain. And when it does, boy howdy!

So but seems that M&D, at a general guess, counts as a favorite among the Pynchonistas. Seemlying nudging at GR, which, well, that would've seemed impossible. So be it. Still, though, given my memory of its reading (now years past), I'd probably still vote for Against the Day. That brick is what provides me yet with reading=memory goosebumps.

It's a Pynchon thing for me. Years of reading failure. Back long with those twenty years ago too I got stuck 2/3 the way through GR. Though I did finally notch that feather too not so long ago. And same with V ; needed to revisit it too before I could even claim a halting 'I read it'. I dunno. Pynchon still eludes me for the most part. Not to put too fine a point on that.
Profile Image for Darwin8u.
1,599 reviews8,731 followers
March 26, 2011
A fantastic book, and an epic story about storytelling. I'm still vibrating from the last chapter; probably the most intimate and beautiful prose Pynchon has written. TP loves contrasts: Mason & Dixon; Jesuit & Quaker; Earth & Stars; North & South; America & England; Slave & Master. Pynchon is never better than those periods and chapters where he is riffing about the recesses of the unspoken, the paths untaken, the caves unexplored. He is able to map the Cartesian coordinate of science and mythology with a language that folds the map, bringing the two opposite edges together in a kiss that explodes like a lightening strike.
Profile Image for Neil.
1,007 reviews651 followers
December 12, 2019
I beg you both, be most careful,— for Distance is not the same here, nor is Time.

This was a re-read for me, inspired by the fact that this was my favourite Pynchon novel when I first read it what feels like many years ago and I have wanted to re-read it for quite some time. My re-read coincided with a busy time in my life which means it took me far longer than I expected to finish the book. But this is, in fact, a good thing as there is so much pleasure to be had reading this novel that it doesn’t matter if you end up spending three weeks reading what would normally take you about a week.

It has to be said that this isn’t a simple book to read (so perhaps one week is a bit of a bold claim!). It contains a lot of long and complex sentences and the story line often appears very random with branches off into strange territory coming a frequent intervals.

Primarily, based on the title, this is a re-telling of the story of Charles Mason and Jeremiah Dixon, the two men most famous for the mapping of the boundary line between Pennsylvania and Maryland in pre-Revolutionary America - the line that became known as the Mason-Dixon Line. The book starts earlier than this with a trip the pair make to observe the Transit of Venus from the southern hemisphere. It is in this initial part of the novel that the paranoia that is there in all Pynchon’s novels immediately makes itself known: the expedition comes under attack from the French and this leaves Mason & Dixon both worrying about the hidden forces that might be in play. In The New York Times, Michiko Kakutani wrote:

The Great Big Question in Thomas Pynchon's novels, from "V." (1963) through "Gravity's Rainbow" (1973) and "Vineland" (1990), has been: Is the world dominated by conspiracies or chaos? Are there patterns, secret agendas, mysterious codes -- in short, a hidden design -- to the burble and turmoil of human existence, or is it all a product of chance? Are the paranoiacs onto something, or do the nihilists have the key to it all?

This is one of the threads that runs through this mammoth novel.

But this is far more than a historical novel re-telling of a story. It is stuffed with comedy and anachronisms. Star Trek gets a mention:

…and ’tis Dixon’s luck to discover The Rabbi of Prague, headquarters of a Kabbalistick Faith, in Correspondence with the Elect Cohens of Paris, whose private Salute they now greet Dixon with, the Fingers spread two and two, and the Thumb held away from them likewise, said to represent the Hebrew letter Shin and to signify, “Live long and prosper.”

As does Popeye

“That is, ‘I am that which I am,’” helpfully translates a somehow nautical-looking Indiv. with gigantick Fore-Arms, and one Eye ever a-Squint from the Smoke of his Pipe.

As do Dr Who, Starbucks and numerous other items from modern life.

These anachronisms are largely, I imagine, Pynchon’s sense of humour at work (this is a very funny novel). But there are also repeated allusions to quantum theory and to things messing with time and location. The missing 11 days caused by the change in the English calendar are repeatedly referenced and time often seems disjointed, as does location: at one point a boat in fog on the Thames suddenly finds itself sailing near Delaware for a brief period. As a parallel to the missing 11 days, there is much discussion of the missing 5 and a quarter degrees in the circle (we only have 360 but should have 365.25 to match the days in the year, apparently - where are those missing degrees?).

Not only is there comedy. There is also a lot of fantasy. There’s a talking dog, a mechanical duck that follows a chef around, a trip into the subterranean world that can be accessed via a portal at the North Pole. I could go on.

There are many other themes that make repeated appearances. The Founding of America, slavery, the post-Enlightenment period - these all play significant roles.

At some points, the reader may well agree with Mason when he says …Not sure I’m following this…

It might be difficult to follow some of the time. But it is brilliant all of the time.
Profile Image for Rayroy.
212 reviews77 followers
January 11, 2015
To sum it up in two words, "Mason & Dixon" is, overwhelmingly phenomenal!

Rather than write a review, because how can you review Thomas Pynchon’s work. The man is a genius, who's depth of vocabulary is out of this world, whose knowledge is so vast it’s a wonder he can retain all he knows, and he is one of the most original authors to ever write. So here’s a top ten list of Mason & Dixon, its top ten phenomenal moments if you will.

10. The Vroom sisters messing with Mason
Here are some lines in which Mason is on a ladder because he is locked out
“With no more than precarious hold upon the Balcony, Mason now feels activity beneath his Soles, and looks down in time to see the Ladder being deftly abstracted and taken ‘roud the Corner in malicious fun by Jet, who for some reason is feeling underappreciated today. As he hangs there in Misery, tasting Ocean Salt in the Wind, watching in spirit of Distance, “Soon,” he mutters aloud, “to be Detachment,” the Bolts connecting the House to the Balcony, which was never meant to bear much more weight than that of an adolescent Female’s Foot, begin to slide, protesting with horrid sucking Shrieks, out of the Lime and Sand that have held them there so ornamentally till now. “What,” he is heard to exclaim,-“not again?” before jumping clear of the falling Iron-work, landing, mercifully with-out more than Contusions and Pain, upon the soak’d Earth”

9. The Talking Norfolk terrier at a pub, who talks to Mason and Dixon

8. Pissing in the snow, part of side story about a wedding.
“Threading their way among snoring celebrants, trying not blunder onto drooling Faces or disarrange’d Skirts, they go outside, and together piss in the Snow. Shelby writes his name, sweepingly, as if at the bottom of some Blank and all-powerful Warrant of the Winter, whilst Tom draws a simple Heart, unpierc’d, unletter’d, whose outline he fills carefully, completely and then some. The Captain looks over. “You certainly did have to piss”

7. Jenkins’s Ear Museum.

6. Garden of giant vegetables

5. Eliza’s and Zhang’s escape from French Canada

4. The Lambton Worm

3. Mason on the other side of St Helena Island with its mind-altering winds, which Mason is visited by the Ghost of his dead wife, or is just the wind.

2. all the back and forth Banter between Mason and Dixon rather it is talk of star gazing, tea vs. coffee, or the conversations with many other people along their journey

1. Armand’s mechanical duck (what else?) and the duck talks
“So,” spray’d the Duck,-“the terrible Bluebeard of the Kitchen, whose Celebrity is purchas’d with the lives of my Race. Not so brave now, Eh”

“…its Beak being of the finest Swedish Steel, did I mention that, yes quite able, when the Duck, in its homicidal Frenzy, is flying at high speed, to penetrate all known Fortification, solid walls being as paper to this Juggernaut…One can cower within, but one cannot avoid,-Bec de la Mort…’Beak of Death.”

Profile Image for Franco  Santos.
484 reviews1,358 followers
February 19, 2021
Cada vez que los topógrafos se separan, se topan con espesuras, ciénagas, pesadillas, pero cuando están juntos avanzan por el aire, están unidos a las estrellas...
La novela histórica más histórica que he leído en mi vida. Es un libro complejo, algo que es característico en el autor, pero si no se tiene sabido un mínimo del contexto en el que se desarrolla el relato, una comprensión de lo que se lee sería una posibilidad remota. Por eso recomiendo averiguar sobre la Línea Mason-Dixon (todo lo concerniente a esto). Con respecto a otros temas, es preferible hacer sus respectivas averiguaciones si algo no se entiende o impide que se prosiga la lectura; en caso de no surgir ninguno de esos problemas, es mejor dejar que Pynchon los enseñe. Algunos de esos temas pueden ser:

-El Black Hole de Calcuta
-Colonización inglesa en los Estados Unidos y la enemistad con Francia
-La Ley del Timbre
-The Paxton Boys
-Feng Shui
-Los problemas con la medición de la longitud sobre el mar en 1700 (The Longitude Act)
-La batalla de Monongahela
-Royal Society
-Rebelión de Pontiac
Profile Image for Ritinha.
703 reviews127 followers
May 8, 2019
Em quase mil densas páginas eivadas de pujança literária, sarcasmo latente, numa miríade de narrativas e personagens secundárias em conexão com as principais, de humor quase omnipresente, não me limitei a «ler um livro», vivi a agora-muito-em-voga «experiência».
Foram muitas horas de roda da designada «literatura pós-moderna», dentro das quais Mason & Dixon surgiram, exploraram, viveram as suas vidas numa complexa relação, e depois se extinguiram.
Nessa Linha de vida, que foi também parcialmente traçada na mapeada linha com o nome dos astrónomos, há reflexões sobre o que é a América, a escravatura, a amizade, o amor, o desterro, a pertença, a solidão e a melancolia inerentes à condição humana, o fascínio da ciência e as tresloucadas teorias emergentes de ramos novos e velhos do saber.

Sem prejuízo do muito mais que constitui tão plúrimo e opulento livro, dele retirei duas grandezas maiores: a relação entre Mason & Dixon, complexa e única como as relações humanas verdadeiramente válidas tendem a sê-lo; e a contundente passagem em que - por ocasião de uma anomalia temporal relacionada com a supressão de 11 dias do calendário - Mason expõe o seu perene amor por Rebekah, reconduzindo a sua própria existência a um hiato até ela.
Profile Image for Makis Dionis.
487 reviews120 followers
February 27, 2021
Κατέγραφε τα πάντα, κάτι σαν σκιά που βρίσκεται πάντοτε στο δωμάτιο, καταγράφοντας κάθε προφορικό σχόλιο, που αλλιώς θα χανόταν για πάντα μέσα στον δυνατό άνεμο της Λήθης. Καθώς ολόκληρη η πολιτισμένη Βρετανία συναθροίζεται αυτήν την ώρα, πόσες όμορφες εκφράσεις από τον γαλαζοαιματο χαρτοπαίχτη , το θαυμαστή μιας σερβιτόρας , τον προσβεβλημένο δανδή, τον ικανοποιημένο μέθυσο, πετούν στον αέρα, βγαίνουν από την πόρτα και χάνονται για πάντα μέσα στη νύχτα και τη σιωπή
Όλες αυτές οι φωνές.
Γιατί να μην πάρουμε μερικές λέξεις από τα στίφη που ορμούν προς το κενό όπου θα χαθούν για πάντα;

Ο Μέισον και ο Ντίξον, δύο Άγγλοι αστρονόμοι, χαράσσουν το σύνορο ανάμεσα στην Πενσυλβάνια και το Μέριλαντ
Η οδύσσειά τους, το όχημα για έναν ακόμα απολαυστικό και χορταστικό Pynchon
Πολυβόλο γνώσεων κατά ριπάς, με τρομερές ιστορίες για κάτι που αυτοαποκαλείται Αμερική και αποκτά υπόσταση και ωριμάζει σαν καλοκαιρινό κεράσι, με εκπληκτική ταχύτητα

Κ ο Ν χάνεται ξανά μέσα στους γεμάτους νικοτίνη καπνούς που είναι τόσο αδιαφανείς όσο και το μέλλον, και αφήνει τον Μέισον να νιώθει ένοχος και ανόητος, και να μην μπορεί να παρηγορηθεί με την ανάμνηση του χαρούμενου αγοριού που πηγαινοέρχεται σαν σαΐτα, λες και ύφαινε την ομάδα, μέρα με τη μέρα, στη Δύση
Profile Image for David Lentz.
Author 17 books313 followers
June 20, 2011
The genius resident in this mighty and "prolifick" work is off the charts, lacking borders, bounds and limits. "Mason & Dixon" is a picaresque Iliad by a supremely gifted and inventive storyteller. The "electrick" writing on each of the 773 pages is luminous beyond belief. The characters are deeply human "comick" and "mystick" figures who consistently extend the wit of their banter well beyond the first or second brilliant repartee of each stretch of dialogue. The "vistos" of wild American colonial landscape in both city and countryside, on land and "oceanick", in royal and humble society in Pynchon's Great Chain of Being are breathtaking. The dialogue is intelligent and witty and often hilarious. Meet Franklin, Col. Washington, Penn, Calvert, Boswell and Dr. Johnson -- all in the mileux of their day -- in adventures high and low. "Mason & Dixon" is an American Human Comedy written in the style of Fielding in "Tom Jones" or Sterne in "Tristram Shandy" or Barth in "The Sotweed Factor." An intricate and elegantly woven story line awaits those who must have one. High science and political intrigue of the day abound for those who love reading 18th century American history. Most of all, the writing quality is so evenly elegant throughout this opus maximus that its supreme and sustained intelligence is the signature of a writer of Nobel Prize stature. Pynchon's body of work, including "V." "M&D" and "Gravity's Rainbow," are sufficient evidence of the breadth of his literary gifts. Only a handful of writers in this era are capable of writing metafiction at this lofty level -- Gaddis, Gass, Theroux, Barth, Donleavy and Bellow. Is Pynchon as brilliant as Nobel Laureate, Bellow? Pynchon is, at least, equally worthy. Few novels have so much going for them on so many levels. "Carpe carpum." Do yourself a favor and seize this brilliant, carping novel: someday its cover shall bear the seal of the Nobel Prize for it is a "magnetick" American Iliad -- a shimmering and timeless Flower of Light.
Profile Image for Szplug.
467 reviews1,257 followers
May 19, 2011
There was little doubt that I was back in Pynchonland when, scant minutes into reading his Aulde English epic, I encountered a talking dog in mid-eighteenth century England as Jeremiah Dixon was becoming acquainted with Charles Mason. From thence the jocular surveying-pair—guided by the gifted, ribald, beautiful prose of Pynchon—make wonderful pit-stops in South Africa and the bleak island of Saint Helena before landing in the Thirteen Colonies to take up the task of settling the disputed borders between several of the burgeoning states.

At heart, what we have is the vastly entertaining story of two friends out on a grand adventure that unfolds across a great span of time and during tumultuous events. The ebb-and-flow bonds of friendship—humanity's greatest social achievement, love outside of blood relationship—is contrasted throughout with the omnipresent pull towards madness by the phantoms and corruptions of loneliness, solitude, and power. Everything in Pynchonia that enhances man's (illusory) mastery over the world serves concurrently to drag him into the mud. The tale is unfolded in an affectation of Olde English which doesn't distract nearly as much as you might expect, and the prose itself is never as impenetrable as portions of his IMO greatest book, Gravity's Rainbow, proved to be. There is also a real warmth to the famous recluse's writing this time around, a genuine affection between the titular characters that is wonderfully etched in the final chapters, as old age endeavors to lay its claim against their earthly partnership. There are so many characters, gags, diversions and cul-de-sacs in Pynchon's tall-tale telling that no review could do it justice.

So astonished was I by that wunderbuch Gravity's Rainbow that, over the course of the next couple of months—and in between breathers of non-fiction that helped me weather overexposure to immersion within Pynchon's textual theme park—I wended through V, The Crying of Lot 49, Vineland and Mason & Dixon. By the time I was near finishing the latter, I was burned-out, Pynchonwise, and desperate for characters with believable surnames; and despite my great enjoyment of its abundant pleasures, I probably didn't partake of M & D with the appreciation that it truly deserved, nor linger long enough to fully capture—at all levels—its plethora of Old and New World charms. Still, I love when Pynchon swings for the fences, and with this weighty wrist-wrecker he hit another one out of the park, a big-hearted pub crawl through pre-revolutionary America that kicks up enough dust to obscure the massive shadow thrown by his masterwork and let this one shine nearly as bright.
Displaying 1 - 30 of 1,040 reviews

Can't find what you're looking for?

Get help and learn more about the design.