American Literature of the Sea and Great Lakes

V. (1963). V. is the first published novel of Thomas Pynchon (1937- ). One of the main characters, Benny Profane, spends time aboard the ship the U.S.S. Scaffold with his old shipmates, the Whole Sick Crew. Part of Profane’s voyage leads him through the sewers of New York City. The rats who live in the sewer system control the city’s waterways and are being tutored in, among other things, Austin Knight’s Modern Seamanship (1901). A minor character, Pig Bodine, behaves insubordinately, knocking people over whenever the ship rolls from side to side. Later, in dry dock, the Scaffold is described as a great squid with colored tentacles. When Profane travels to Malta aboard the Susanna Squaducci, he spots a xebec, a small, three-masted Mediterranean vessel. This ship is identified as the H.M.S. Egmont and displays a prominent figurehead of Astarte, the goddess of sexual love.

Pynchon’s fiction employs both historical events and myth; at times it is difficult to distinguish between the two. Although the ships in V. are described in detail, whether they are factual or fictional is not clear. Among this reclusive author’s other fiction, only Mason & Dixon* (1997) includes references to the sea and seafaring.

Ralph Berets