Eastward Ho! pp 336-357
Welcome fellow readers.
You haven't seen me around here much because I was late getting started. I only got The Book in early February, so I have been playing catch-up going through the sections and reading the blog and other information but not posting comments (since, after all, it doesn't seem that anyone reads comments posted after a given section's discussion has completed). But I volunteered to be a Moderator because, from the very first chapters, this book was so much fun, I wanted to share my enjoyment.
First, however, I'd like to explain how I've been reading AtD, since it is probably a bit different from what others have done. I start by reading a section of the book (delimited by the pages set here for the different weeks' discussions), and, at the same time, check the AtD Wiki for info, and add things that I've spotted. I then read the blog here, and the comments. Alas, when reading this section, I cannot benefit from the combined wisdom of the posters here...
Finally, I listen to the same section from an audiobook (available from iTunes for $24, or from Audible.com for a bit more, though if you have a subscription with Audible, it's just one credit. This audiobook is extremely well read, and the narrator, Dick Hill, does wonders with the voices of the different characters. I find that reading/listening in this way gives me two perspectives about the book. After a first read, when some of the characters and events are new, hearing them read reinforces the insights that I've gotten from reading the comments here on the blog. I wouldn't recommend this to everyone, but it is certainly a novel way to read a novel, if you have time. (The audiobook is 53 1/2 hours long, or about 3 minutes per page.)
Call me obsessive, if you like, but this is an interesting way to approach a book that is as dense and complex as AtD.
In any case, this is one of the most entertaining novels I've read in quite some time, and certainly one of the most thought-provoking. This sharing of knowledge and trivia makes it even more so.
One thought: Pynchon being now almost 70 years old, is it worth considering that this may be his last novel? Given the amount of time between books, this is entirely possible. (I hope not.) Could this, in any way, lead to certain accretions of ideas that appear in AtD?
So without further ado, here is my Summary of the Action of This Section of Against the Day.
The story picks up from page 317, where Dally (or Dahlia) is setting of eastward on a train. She makes a brief stop in Chicago, long enough for TRP to give us one of the gems of the book (p. 336):
"Somewhere in her head, she'd had this notion that because the White City had once existed beside the Lake, in Jackson Park, it would have acted somehow like yeast in bread and caused the entire city to bloom into some kind of grace. [...] She looked out the windows, hoping for some glimpse of her White City, but saw only the darkened daytime one, and understood that some reverse process had gone on, not leavening but condensing this to stone gravity."
When Dahlia gets to New York, she goes into a restaurant to eat lunch and is astounded at how clean and neat everything is, in contrast to her world out west. She starts chatting with a waitress named Katie, who asks if she is looking for a job and if she has a place to stay--Dahlia undoubtedly looks like she is Not From Those Parts. Looking for a job, she runs into Katie again, who is returning from an audition; she waits tables by day, and wants to be an actress by night. "It's New York. Disrespect was invented here." (338:14)
A few days later, they meet again at a "chop suey joint", and Dally goes to "apply" for a job as an "artist's model" in the "white-slave simulation industry". Apparently, the Chinese crime syndicates would stage mock kidnappings with pretty young white women, called "comediettas", or "chop suey stories", for Americans who wanted to see these imitations of irreality.
Dahlia moved in with Katie, and during the day "performed" in front of tourists in the ever-repeated sketch of being kidnapped and pulled down into a manhole. But Dahlia was good at her job, attracting the attention of show business impresarios, including (should we be surprised?) R. Wilshire Vibe, "ever on the cruise for new talent", who offered her a part in his next project, Shangai Scampers. Dahlia was naturally skeptical, but Vibe pointed out that he was a legitimate theater producers. He asked, "do you have a contract here?", to which Dahlia replied, "I signed something. But it was in Chinese". Vibe retorted, "Ah, when is it not."
Then irreality became reality as a "tong war" heated up, the Chinese fighting among themselves, and Dahlia needed a change. Katie suggested she follow up on Vibe's offer, and this is how yet another recurring character ended up in the Vibe web. She goes to Vibe's office on West Twenty-eighth street, overlooking Tin Pan Alley, but Vibe has nothing to offer for the moment. However, one Con McVeety needs a "card girl"; this is the girl who holds up the cards introducing the different vaudeville acts. Con and Dahlia negotiate, and she gets the job.
Con had an old "dime theater"--a sort of Barnumesque collection of curiosities--which fronted his McVeety's Theater. It's exhibits of pickled creatures was designed to "Get em in the mood before the show starts." The performers in the vaudeville show are the typical Pynchonesque lot of weird and abnormals. (pp 343-344) Occasionally, R. Wilshire Vibe, or R.W. as he preferred, would drop in and chat with Dahlia, giving her updates on Shanghai Scampers. And in the meantime, Con was preparing an up-to-date version of Julius Caesar, entitled Dagoes with Knives, in which Dahlia was nearly cast as Calpurnia, renamed for he occasion Mrs. Caesar; a Chinese actress, however, with support from some well-armed friends, got the role, in spite of her lack of familiarity with English.
Vibe had invited Dahlia to a party one Saturday, saying she could bring a friend, and Dahlia naturally invited Katie. In search of appropriate dresses, Dahlia had her first experience in a department store, and encountered such things as elevators, mannequins (that she took for real women) and full-length mirrors (where she saw herself and Katie), when she was what at first seemed to be an apparition: her mother (or someone who looked like her mother). Remember, one reason Dahlia came to New York was to find her mother, whose image she would have only from the magazine picture found many years earlier.
But she lost track of the woman who looked like her mother, and while she looked for her on every floor, the mother was not to be found. A hallucination? Perhaps; other things she saw in that same scene turned out to be, well, other: such as a harpist who was merely a "cigar-chewing bruiser".
The two ladies head downtown on the night of the party, to Vibe's italianate town house, somewhere in Greenwich Village. To prevent people from being wallflowers, a huge, round couch was located in the very center of the ballroom, where those who didn't wish to dance would have to sit in the middle of everyone, as though watching the dancers revolve around them in a parody of a galaxy. There were palm trees everywhere, of all kinds, "creating a sort of jungle" and Vibe stars sang songs from Vibe productions.
Dahlia walked out onto the rooftop for air, and met a young man, who, after suggesting they go inside, disappeared. She is accosted by a couple more odd characters, until she was "saved" by a magician's assistant--the woman she had seen in the store the previous day-- who led her out of the building to meet with Katie on the step of her rooming house in the Lower West Side. Another incident of time lost and time telescoped... Dahlia has forgotten everything that happened since the moment she was whisked away by the assistant.
Dahlia went to the Zombini residence, an extensive "French flat" on upper Broadway, in a twelve-storey skyscraper. The magician's assistant, Bria, was her stepsister, and Dahlia made the acquaintance of her other step-siblings, all of whom exercised magical activities. Meeting her mother was almost anti-climactic, with no rush of discovery or excitement; all seemed natural. Magic was everywhere in this household, and Luca Zombini waxes scientific on the illusion of sawing a woman in half, where she is always reassembled, where "there's always a happy ending." He then displays a piece of Iceland Spar, suggesting that one could saw someone in half optically, and, "instead of two different pieces of one body, there are now two complete individuals walking around, who are identical in every way." He apparently attempted this, yet was unable to reunite the victims. According to Professor Vanderjuice, he had forgotten the element of time, "so there was this short couple of seconds where time went on, irreversible processes of one kind and another, this sort of gap opened up a little, and that wis enough to make it impossible to get back to exactly where wed been."
Yet, a solution might exist, in the only place in the world that made these units, in the Isle of Mirrors in Venice (just where we last left the Chums of Chance), and where the Zombinis happened to be booked in a couple of weeks. Dahlia would accompany the family/troupe overseas.
Finally, Dahlia confronted Erlys, though not aggressively. Erlys asked about Merle, but eventually told Dahlia that she was already pregnant when she met Merle, and Dahlia's real father was one Bert Snidell (see p. 75), who died in a streetcar accident, and whose family threw her out when they found out. And so, with a hint of anger, quickly dissipated by the arrival of some other Zomboni children, they put off their discussion until they would be on board the S.S. Stupendica and one their way to Europe in a future chapter.
So here ends the plot summary. Now a few general comments. This is another of those transitional chapters, in which there is little mention of mathematics, tarot cards, or quaternia, but we do see the Iceland Spar again (have any of you gone out and actually bought a piece of this mineral? I'm curious to see what it looks like, but the only places I can find that sell it charge more for shipping--I'm in France--than for the spar itself...).
Links to other characters, items or places occur: the Spar, Professor Vanderjuice, Venice, where the Zombinis are heading. A Vibe appears, adding yet another link to the web of characters and events. Dahlia seems as though she will be a much more important character in the future (no, I haven't read ahead yet), though I had expected her to hook up with Kit, as Frank had suggested in the previous section. Much groundwork is being laid in this chapter, with many hints and connections that will undoubtedly be realized in later sections...
One other comment: I haven't read much about the way Pynchon is using all the stratagems of the classic 19th century novel, especially the omniscient narrator and the changes of point of view that are typical of, say, Dickens. (Quite the opposite of the several-times-cited Henry James, however...) If anyone today is a true heir of Dickens, it is certainly Pynchon, or at least the Pynchon of this novel.