Once-waterboarded Christopher Hitchens writes in his memoir Hitch-22 of meeting Ian McEwan (through–who else?–Martin Amis). According to Hitch, McEwan “seemed at first to possess some of the same vaguely unsettling qualities as his tales. He never raised his voice, surveyed the world in a very level and almost affectless fashion through moon-shaped granny glasses [!!!], wore his hair in bangs, was rail-thin, showed an interest in what Martin used to call ‘hippie-ish’ pursuits, and when I met him was choosing to live on the fringes of the then weed-infested ‘frontline’ black ghetto in Brixton.”
Far be it from me to be an expert on “granny glasses,” but Hitch may have been onto something (see right, although personally I was hoping for a thicker rim).
Presently, as if in a certain McEwan novel about love and stalking, Hitch received a phone call from Thomas Pynchon. I don’t know about you, but I have long imagined this exact moment. I’m sitting in the basement rec room, a budding 17-year-old wannabe writer, reading Gravity’s Rainbow while my brothers play Nintendo in the next room. The phone rings. Mom calls down. “Who is it?” I yell up to her over the mechanical clatter of Super Mario Brothers. “Don’t know. Funny accent.” Mildly trepidatious it might be my soccer coach calling to say practice has been pushed up to 4 a.m. tomorrow, I pick up and am greeted by… Now, in my teenage fantasy, he says, “Hey, man, Tom here. You know, Tom Pynchon. What’s up, man?” Throw in a stutter for dramatic effect. Static on the line because he’s calling from an undisclosed location in Pennsyltucky (this was before Mason & Dixon, part of the research of which legendarily included the author walking the entire Mason-Dixon line). But never did I imagine he’d come right out and say, as Hitch recalls,
“This is Thomas Pynchon speaking.”
Because, um, Pynchon? Wouldn’t he be a bit more…hesitant? Guarded? Maybe mumble something along the lines of “Oh, hey, hi, um…” and not come right out and brashly declare “This is Thomas Pynchon speaking?” Although, with this knowledge, go back and listen to Pynchon’s actual voice (the two Simpsons appearances, here and here; the Inherent Vice book trailer), and yeah, OK, I can picture it. Especially with the mild Long Island accent.
The intrigue builds as Hitch writes on:
“I am glad that I did not say what I first thought of saying, because he was soon enough able to demonstrate that it was he, and that a mutual friend (make that a common friend) named Ian McEwan had suggested that he call. Larry Kramer’s ultra-homosexual effort Faggots had been seized by the British Customs and Excise, and all the impounded copies were in danger of being destroyed. Mr. Pynchon was somewhere in England and was mightily distressed by this. What could be done? Could I raise an outcry, as Pynchon had been assured by Ian I could? I told him that one could protest hoarsely and long but that Britain had no law protecting free speech or forbidding state censorship. We chatted a bit longer, I artlessly offered to call him back, and he laughingly declined this transparent try-on and faded back into the world where only McEwan could find him.”
I don’t know about you, but while I pine for the Pynchon biography, what is emerging, of late, is a literary love affair friendship between Pynchon and McEwan that rivals another famous allegedly homosexual literary coupling, between Melville and Hawthorne. The mind reels what revolutionary words are whispered late at night under the covers…