Books: The Spores of Paranoia

VINELAND by Thomas Pynchon; Little, Brown; 385 pages; $19.95

It is one of the better-known opening lines in American literature: "A screaming comes across the sky." Thus begins Gravity's Rainbow (1973), the mammoth and, to many, impenetrable novel that established Thomas Pynchon as the most important and mysterious writer of his generation. While his cult exfoliated, the author mostly remained silent; Slow Learner, a collection of five previously published stories, appeared in 1984. Now, at last, comes Vineland, Pynchon's first novel in nearly 17 years, and the faithful can again begin the quest for runic meanings, preferably hidden. And right up...

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