On the edge of the world

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On the edge of the world
On the edge of the world

This is a story about the end of irony and the beginning of post-truth. A chimera novel by perhaps the most unpredictable and specific voice in postmodern literature. The year is 2001, the city is New York, and the calm after the bursting of the dotcom bubble is the calm before the storm. The life of Maxine Tarnow-expert fraud investigator with a suspended license and owner of a small business called Track and Capture-follows the usual cycle: kids, husband (who isn't quite an ex), girlfriends, work. Every now and then the boat of routine is rocked by a more special client who has jumped out of the shadowy half of morality. But that doesn't faze Maxine - she has a gun and knows how to use it. Until an old acquaintance, an indie filmmaker named Reg, draws her into the maze built by the inexplicable and startling directions in which the cash flows of one of the biggest dotcom billionaires, Gabriel Ice.

Born in 1937, Thomas Pynchon is America's most intriguing postmodern writer-an encyclopedic mind whose works challenge the inquisitive reader. His first book, the novel V., was published in 1963, and since then Pynchon has captured the attention and imagination of writers, critics and journalists both with his complex novels, woven with references to science and art, and with his mysterious personality. Almost nothing is known about the man who wrote the monumental novel Gravity's Arc - it is known that he lives in New York, he is said to have attended Nabokov's lectures at Cornell as a student, and there is a photo circulating on the Internet of a strange, a young man who may or may not be his. His name is invariably in the running for the Nobel Prize for Literature.



It's the first day of spring in 2001 and Maxine Tarnow, who in some systems still goes by the surname Loeffler, has taken her sons to school. Yes, maybe they really are past the age where they need a chaperone, maybe Maxine isn't ready to let them fend for themselves yet, after all the school is only a few blocks away, it's on her way to work, she delivers pleasure. What so much?

All the Callery pear trees on the streets of the Upper West Side are covered in bunches of white blossoms at dawn. As Maxine watches them, sunlight creeps over the edges of the roofs, past the water cisterns, to the corner of the next block and falls on one of them, making it glow.

– Mom? – Ziggy is as fast as ever.

– Hey! – Guys, look, do you see the tree?

Otis takes a moment to look at the view.

– It's cruel, mom.

– Done – agreed Zak.

The boys continue and Maxine stares at the tree for another half minute, then catches up. At the corner, he reflexively creates a shelter between them and any driver whose idea of sport is to jump around the corner and run you over.

Sunlight reflected from the windows of east-facing apartments is already glinting in blurry bunnies on the facades of the buildings across the street. Articulated buses, recently launched on their routes, are swarming the neighborhoods like giant insects. Metal blinds are creeping up, early riser trucks are blocking parked cars, men are out with their hoses washing their part of the sidewalk. Homeless people sleep in the doorways, bums carrying huge plastic bags full of empty beer cans and sodas have headed to the markets to make a few cents, workers stand outside their sites waiting for the boss to come. Runners hop impatiently on the curb waiting for the green light. Cops are at the coffee shops trying to deal with the bagel shortage. Children, parents and babysitters, on foot or on bicycles, have taken off in all directions to the various schools in the neighborhood. At least half the kids are on the new Razor scooters, so an onslaught of brakeless aluminum can be added to the list of dangers. Otto Kugelblitz School occupies three connected brownstone buildings between Amsterdam and Columbus streets at an intersection where the Law & Order crew has yet to film a single scene. The school is named after an early psychoanalyst who was ostracized from Freud's inner circle because of the biogenetic theory he developed. It was obvious to him that the stages of human life corresponded to the various mental disorders, according to the understanding of them at the time - the solipsism of childhood, the sexual hysteria of adolescence and early maturity, the paranoia of middle age, the dementia of old age… All of them - steps towards death, which in the end turns out to be "normality".

– Terrifyingly good timing for such a discovery, you're welcome! - were Freud's words as he shook his cigar in Kugelblitz's direction and showed him the door at 19 Bergasse Street with orders never to return.

Kugelblitz shrugged his shoulders, emigrated to the States, settled on the Upper West Side and began a practice that quickly spun a web of the powerful of the day who, in times of pain or crisis, sought his help. And when he introduced them to each other as his "friends" during the hectic social events he began to attend more and more often, each of them found himself face to face with another healed soul.

What effect the Kugelblitz analysis had on their brains is not clear, but some of these patients not only survived the Great Depression, but also managed to set aside enough money to start a profitable school afterwards and Kugelblitz himself, and to prepare a program in which each class corresponds to a different state of consciousness and the teaching approach is tailored accordingly. In other words, a homework madhouse.

Maxine finds that this morning the oversized front staircase is once again teeming with students, teachers on duty, parents, nannies, and toddlers in strollers. The director, Bruce Winterslow, dressed in honor of the vernal equinox in a white suit and panama hat, has engaged the crowd, each member of whom he knows by name and a brief biography, and taps a shoulder here and there, attentive and cordial, suggestive or threatening.

– Maxi, hi!

Virva McElmo floats through the concourse on the site at a speed that is slower than necessary, and which, at least according to Maxine, she brought with her from the West Bank. Some women say goodbye to their Upper West Side Mom card for less, and she always gets away with it.

– And my schedule is kind of hell this afternoon. – Virva is called over several carts. – Not that it's important, at least not for now, but at the same time…

– You don't have to worry – Maxine interrupts her to speed things up a bit, – I'll take Fiona home, and you come and get her when you can.

– Thank you very much. I'll try not to be late.

– It's no problem for him to spend the night at our place.

Before they met, Maxine often served herbal tea immediately after making coffee for herself, until one day Virva asked, quite politely:

– Do I have a California license plate nailed to my ass?

This morning, Maxine notices a change in her usual work week attire: instead of denim overalls, Virva is wearing what Barbie would describe as a 'work lunch suit', her blonde braids are undone and her hair is up, and her plastic monarch butterfly earrings replaced with what - diamonds, cubic zirconia? Most likely she has a meeting coming up later in the day, no doubt work related, maybe an interview or some other fundraising expedition.

Virva has a degree from Pomona, but no permanent job. She and Justin are transplants: from Silicon Valley to Silicon Street. Justin and a friend of his from Stanford have a small startup that somehow managed to escape the dot-com crash last year, though not thanks to what some would describe as a burst of irrationality. So far they were getting by on the Kugelblitz fee, not to mention the basement and second floor of a brownstone by the Riverside that Maxine had had a real-estate envy the first time she met.

– Magnificent home – she had pretended to be excited, – maybe I'm not in the right business?

– Turn to Bill Gates – Virva had answered her, – I'm just killing time until my stock options open. right honey?

California sun and snorkeling waters. Or at least most of the time. Sometimes, though… Maxine hasn't survived this long in her industry without developing antennae to pick up on the unspoken.

– Good luck, Virva, she wishes her, thinking, “Whatever you need it for,” not failing to notice the California brooding on the other side as she walks off the playground, kissing the kids on the head as she goes, to continue with his work. Nearby on the same street, in an old bank building, is Maxine's office - a small fraud investigation agency called Track and Capture - she had briefly considered adding an "and hang up" a while ago, but immediately he realized how fantastical, even crazy, that would sound-reached by walking through a lobby with a ceiling so high that before they banned smoking, you sometimes couldn't see him. Erected as a financial temple shortly before the Crash of 1929 in a moment of blind delirium much like that around the recent dot-com bubble, the building had undergone a number of transformations in the years since and had become a palimpsest of unplastered walls, sheltering escapees from time students, dreamers with hash pipes, talent agents, chiropractors, illegal piecework spaces, mini warehouses for who knows what kind of contraband, and lately, on the floor where both Maxine and a dating agency called 'Yenta Expresso', the travel agency In 'n' Out, the fragrant office of acupuncturist and herbalist Dr. Ying, and further down the hall, an 'Unoccupied' room, until recently occupied by the generally infrequently visited company Packages Unlimited. Current tenants remember the days when these chained and padlocked doors were guarded by uniformed gorillas armed with Uzis who signed up for various mysterious shipments and deliveries. Back then, the real possibility of an automatic weapons firefight at any moment added a motivational flavor to the day, but now the Unoccupied space just sits there and waits.

Having just stepped out of the elevator, Maxine hears Daytona Lorraine from the end of the hall and through the wall harassing the office phone, her voice again in a high-dramatic register. He tiptoes in just as Daytona screams:

– I sign the fucking papers and that's it, you want to be a father, fend for yourself. – And hangs up the phone with a bang.

– Good morning, Maxine chirps in a diminished third, sharping the second note ever so slightly.

– Last chance for his ass.

Sometimes it seems to her that every geek in the world has the business card of Track and Capture in their review-greasy rolodex. There are tons of messages waiting on the answering machine from silent perverts, telemarketing consultants, there are even calls related to current work orders. After briefly sifting through the tape, Maxine returns a distressing call from a whistleblower at a Jersey food company who is in secret negotiations with former Krispy Kreme employees to illegally purchase top-secret temperature and humidity settings in the donut maker's control box along with the equally secret photos of the syringe, which however appear to be polaroids of auto parts taken years ago in Queens and then photoshopped in a rather bizarre way.

– I'm starting to think that the deal smells like something – her informant's voice trembles slightly – that maybe it's not legal at all.

– Maybe, Trevor, because it's an offense under the Criminal Code.

– This is an FBI operation! Trevor shouts. – Why does the FBI need to…

– Uh? Krispy Kreme? Because of their brothers from all levels of law enforcement?

– I understand. I'll check with the Bergen County DA, they may have heard something…

– Wait, wait, someone's coming, oh, they saw me! Best to…

And the connection breaks. As always.

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