Mason & Dixon A Novel

Thomas Pynchon




Trade Paperback

784 Pages



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A New York Times Best Book of the Year
A Time Magazine Best Book of the Year

Charles Mason (1728-1786) and Jeremiah Dixon (1733-1779) were the British surveyors best remembered for running the boundary between Pennsylvania and Maryland that we know today as the Mason-Dixon Line. Here is their story as told by the celebrated contemporary novelist Thomas Pynchon, in an updated 18th-century saga featuring Native Americans and frontier folk, ripped bodices, naval warfare, conspiracies both erotic and political, and major caffeine abuse.

Unreflectively entangled in crimes of demarcation, Mason and Dixon take us along on a grand tour of the Enlightenment's dark hemisphere, from their first journey together to the Cape of Good Hope, to pre-Revolutionary America, and back to England; into the shadowy yet redemptive turns of their later lives; through incongruities in conscience, parallaxes of personality, and tales of questionable altitude told and intimated by voices clamoring not to be lost.

Along the way they encounter a plentiful cast of characters, including Benjamin Franklin, George Washington, and Samuel Johnson, as well as a Chinese feng shui master, a Swedish irredentist, a talking dog, and a robot duck. The quarrelsome, daring, wholly mismatched pair—Mason as melancholy and Gothic as Dixon is cheerful and pre-Romantic—pursue a linear narrative of irregular lives, observing (and managing to participate in) the many and varied occasions of madness presented them by the Age of Reason.


Praise for Mason & Dixon

"A novel that is as moving as it is cerebral, as poignant as it is daring . . . A book that testifies to Pynchon's powers of invention and his sheer power as a storyteller."—Michiko Kakutani, The New York Times

"A dazzling work of imaginative re-creation, a marvel-filled historical novel . . . Exceptionally funny."—Michael Dirda, The Washington Post Book World

"The style is playful, a pastiche redolent of the musty journal and the capitalomania of the day, bumptiously Fieldingesque, and yet as pumped-up and heightened and chock-full of late-20th-century references as the dernier cri from the street. It is wonderfully subversive. In fact, almost all the book's humor is balanced on the razor edge of anachronism, creating a rich stew of accepted and invented history, anecdote, myth and hyperbole. There are precedents here—John Barth, Robert Coover, Günter Grass, Gabriel García Márquez, E.L. Doctorow and, of course, the Thomas Pynchon of Gravity's Rainbow and V."—T. Coraghessan Boyle, The New York Times Book Review

"Pynchon always has been wildly inventive, and gorgeously funny when he surpasses himself: the marvels of this book are extravagant and unexpected."—Harold Bloom, Bostonia

"It is the vision itself that one takes away from this remarkable book: a wilderness America, peopled as much by European hopes and longings as by the interlocking kingdoms of the indigenous; a virgin, undivided land. Until, one morning, two ordinary men appear, charged with cutting a perfectly straight line, eight yards wide, westward into its heart . . . It is a moment of surpassing beauty and sadness, a glimpse of something whose sense we can never take for granted or be lastingly done with—even when, as here, it has occasioned a masterpiece."—Ted Mooney, Los Angeles Times Sunday Book Review

"With Mason & Dixon we're again in the generous hands of one of American literature's true masters."—Rick Moody, The Atlantic Monthly

"An astonishing and wonderful book."—The New York Review of Books

"Splendid . . . Mason & Dixon—like Huckleberry Finn, like Ulysses—is one of the great novels about friendship in anybody's literature."—John Leonard, The Nation

"Mason & Dixon is an amazing achievement, certainly the novel of the year, possibly the novel of our time."—Robert L. McLaughlin, Review of Contemporary Fiction

"Awash with light and charm, rich with suggestion and idea, stuffed with the minutiae of another time and world. Mason & Dixon is less a book to read through than to read in, to savor paragraph by paragraph."—Paul Skenazy, San Francisco Chronicle

"Mason & Dixon will make you want to curse American history, then turn around and bless it, because nowhere else but America would you find a zany literary genius like Thomas Pynchon."—Malcolm Jones, Jr., Newsweek

"As a fellow-novelist I could only envy it and the culture that permits the creation and success of such intricate masterpieces. This almost feels like the last great fiction of our dying era. Though I'm sure it won't be, I must admire its sense of the bright farewell, the clear passing overseas of the torch that Peacock, Dickens, Lawrence, and Conrad bore. You'll not find a better, this next time around."—John Fowles, The Spectator

0"A contemporary Don Quixote or Canterbury Tales or more accurately the Iliad and Odyssey, with heavy splashes of Woody Allen and the Marx Brothers. Pynchon's not only back, but he's left us all in the dust again, with only the sound of his laughter echoing far in front of us."—Jim Knipfel, New York Press

"Pynchon, an elusive, erudite, and manic satirist, has weighed in with another big book, another romp through the wild frontier of his imagination. As he did in his most celebrated work, Gravity's Rainbow (1973), and in Vineland (1990), Pynchon explores the paradoxes of a transitional era, this time harking back to the mid-eighteenth century and the so-called Age of Reason. His heroes are the English astronomers Charles Mason and Jeremiah Dixon, the men responsible for establishing the Mason-Dixon line, and who, in his magic-making hands, embody their time's eager devotion to logic and precision even in the face of life's daunting chaos. As Pynchon chronicles their cultural and scientific adventures from their first meeting in London through their journey to Sumatra and the arduous surveying of the famous boundary line that carries their names, he considers such complex issues as colonization, slavery, the massacre of American Indians, and the conflicts between religion and science. But he also has fun, gleefully improvising on the assertive language of the time, taking sly liberties with the lives and personalities of the melancholy Mason and carefree Dixon, reveling in the buzz of pubs and coffeehouses, and animating a great cast of whimsical secondary characters. While Mason and Dixon survive all manner of extremes in weather, terrain, and human behavior, Pynchon transforms their world into a fun-house-mirror reflection of our own, reminding us that we still search for meaning in celestial events, that racism is still alive and virulent, and that friendship and love can and do transcend the dividing lines of prejudice and politics."—Donna Seaman, Booklist

Reviews from Goodreads



  • Thomas Pynchon

  • Thomas Pynchon is the author of V., The Crying of Lot 49, Gravity's Rainbow, Slow Learner (a collection of stories), and Vineland. He received the National Book Award for Gravity's Rainbow in 1974. He lives in New York.





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