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He wrote a series of fictional columns under pseudonyms in his high-school paper in which teachers used drugs, shot off guns, and were driven insane by student pranks.

In one story, a leftist agitator “got acquainted with the business end of a night stick the hard way.” Pynchon later recalled that his first “honest-to-God” story was about World War II—though in his recollection it doubled as a plan for how to navigate the stultifying culture of postwar America. “Any concrete dedication to an abstract condition results in unpleasant things like wars.” Engineering physics, the hardest program at Cornell, was meant to supply Cold War America with its elites—the best and the brightest, junior league.

He stuttered, too, and felt a kinship with Porky Pig.

Tharaldsen says she saw Pynchon’s IQ score, somewhere in the 190s. He wrote much later about feeling in college “a sense of that other world humming out there”—a sense that would surely nag him from one city to another for the rest of his life.

He was also in thrall to Thomas Wolfe and Lord Byron.

“Shit, money, and the Word, the three American truths, powering the American mobility, claimed the Slothrops, clasped them for good to the country’s fate. about all they did was persist.” It sounds like an ungenerous rendering of the Pynchons, one of those Wasp lineages whose historical prominence leaves their ancestors with a burdened inheritance.

For a would-be writer with his own stubborn ideas, it was a source of pride and shame.

“Some of it is true,” Pynchon wrote of the story, “but none of the interesting parts.