Rye Whiskey

DSC_5052 (2)

Rye shows up in both Gravity’s Rainbow and Vineland. In a weird coincidence, the paragraphs in the two books that mention the stuff both also mention Superman. Here they are.

Gravity’s Rainbow (p. 752):

Superman will swoop boots-first into a deserted clearing, a launcher-erector sighing oil through a slow seal-leak, gum evoked from the trees, bitter manna for this bitterest of passages. The colors of his cape will wilt in the afternoon sun, curls on his head begin to show their first threads of gray. Philip Marlowe will suffer a horrible migraine and reach by reflex for the pint of rye in his suit pocket, and feel homesick for the lacework balconies of the Bradbury Building.

Vineland (p. 134):

“Superman could change back into Clark Kent,” she had once confided to Frenesi, “don’t underestimate it. Workin’ at the Daily Planet was the Man o’ Steel’s Hawaiian vacation, his Saturday night in town, his marijuana and his opium smoke, and oh what I wouldn’t give….” An evening newspaper … anyplace back in the Midwest … she would leave work around press time, make a beeline for some walk-down lounge, near enough to the paper that she could feel vibrations from the presses through the wood of the bar. Drink rye, wipe her glasses on her tie, leave her hat on indoors, gossip in the dim light with the other regulars. In the winter it would already be dark outside the windows. The polished shoes would pick up highlights as the street lamps got brighter … she wouldn’t be waiting for anybody or anything to happen, because she’d only be Clark Kent.

In both cases, the rye is associated with a fictional character (and not one of Pynchon’s own characters). In Vineland, DL imagines herself as Clark Kent drinking rye. In Gravity’s Rainbow, it’s not actually Superman with the rye, but Phillip Marlowe from Raymond Chandler’s The Big Sleep, crammed into the same paragraph as Superman and with both characters slipping into uncharacteristic decline.

DSC_5043No one drinks rye in Pynchon, or even imagines themselves doing so. They imagine fictional characters drinking it. Maybe that’s because referring to someone “drinking rye” is more of a cute, quaint expression than something anyone would actually say. In reality, we’d usually just say bourbon or whiskey, even if the liquid in question was actually rye whiskey. The phrases “drinking rye” and “pint of rye” have the sheen of fiction–especially the kind of genre fiction where we’d find Superman or Marlowe. Pynchon isn’t so much playing with these genre tropes as deftly illustrating the way they play in his characters’ minds.

The bottle o’ rye I have before me here is the Sazerac Rye from the ever reliable (ryeliable?) Buffalo Trace. I first tried it during a tasting with a Southern gentleman wise in the ways of American whiskey. It was my favourite of the array he brought over that night, and it remains mighty enjoyable. Peppery banana, caramel and vanilla. I read someone say ginger. Definitely spicy, relatively mild—really entirely too pleasant to leave for the fictional characters.

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