Thomas Pynchon was born on Long Island, New York, in 1937. He served in the navy and graduated from Cornell, after which he worked as a technical writer for Boeing Aircraft. During this time, he turned to fiction writing and published his first novel, V., in 1963, to rave reviews. He followed up this novel two years later with The Crying of Lot 49, a short but extremely complex novel. In a sense, The Crying of Lot 49 was a type of dress rehearsal for his long novel that succeeded it, Gravity's Rainbow, which won the National Book Award and is perhaps the best-known long novel to emerge after World War II. Pynchon's fourth major novel was called Vineland, and two years ago, he published his historical novel Mason and Dixon. Through all of these books, with his use of surrealism and creation of vast, varied, and incredible conspiracy theories, Pynchon has remained one of the most original and important of American novelists.
Almost all works by Pynchon are deliberately complex. The plots are often difficult to follow both because of their intricate twists and turns and their sometimes incredibly esoteric subject matter. Pynchon's characters, furthermore, can be hard to relate to. Pynchon has a tendency to fill his novels not with real characters but rather with facades or brief cameo figures that exist in the novel only for some specific purpose, after which they disappear. Indeed, Gravity's Rainbow has over 400 of these types of characters. In The Crying of Lot 49, examples of such characters are Manny di Presso and Jesus Arrabel.
The Crying of Lot 49 is thought by many to be Pynchon's best work. Others surely disagree, arguing that The Crying of Lot 49 is simply Pynchon's most accessible work, its short length and streamlined (for Pynchon) plot allowing the reader to follow along with less work than his longer novels require. But no matter where The Crying of Lot 49 stands within Pynchon's body of work, there is no doubt that in its humor, story, and deep insight into American culture and beyond, the book is an American landmark.