At around 367 pages, Part 4 of Against the Day is the novel’s longest section. This part, which is the length of many novels, shares its title with the novel itself. The title is taken from 2 Peter 3:7 in the Bible. In the King James Version, that verse reads “But the heavens and the earth, which are now, by the same word are kept in store, reserved unto fire against the day of judgment and perdition of ungodly men.” Even though this is the longest section, I found it easier to follow the novel’s many plot threads. Some of this is because I’ve now spent enough time with the characters that they’re familiar and some of this is because Pynchon is now bringing his novel to a conclusion. In Part 2, we heard a lot about Kit Traverse’s fascination with mathematics and vectors. Now, in part 4, our characters who are scattered around the world all begin to find their way onto a vector that will carry them through World War I, effectively the novel’s day of judgement, and convergence in Southern California at the beginning of the 1920s.
The 1908 Tunguska Event, a real-life 12-megaton explosion that happened in Siberia, possibly from a comet hitting the Earth proves to be a major event in the lives of many of the characters ranging from Kit Traverse to the Chums of Chance and their Russian counterparts, the crew of the Bolsha’ia Igra. Pynchon notes that the Tunguska Event was so powerful it sent some reindeer flying and even caused some of their noses to glow red. More seriously, it proves to be a transformative event that heralds the coming world war.
Much of part 4 follows Yashmeen Halfcourt, Reef Traverse, and Cyprian Latewood as they form a three-way romance. Over the course of that romance, Yashmeen becomes pregnant. In part because of that, stopping the oncoming war in Europe becomes a priority for her. Reef’s family has fought for unions and in this section, he uses his skills to attempt to prevent the war. Unfortunately, the oncoming storm is too powerful and their efforts are doomed to failure.
Meanwhile, Reef and Kit’s brother Frank is in Mexico caught among the tides of revolution ahead of World War I. He becomes a freedom fighter and is nearly killed before tending to the machinery on a coffee plantation. Eventually he escapes Mexico and finds his way back home to Colorado where he witnesses the death of Scarsdale Vibe, the man who was ultimately responsible for his father’s death.
We spend World War I itself with the Chums of Chance aboard their airship, the Inconvenience. Initially, they’re sent to find the Bolsha’ia Igra, which has vanished. When they find the Russian airship, they discover the crew are helping people weather the storm of war. The Chums abandon their mission and help the Russians on their mission of mercy, delivering food to people in need and carrying wounded soldiers to safety. After the war, they receive a job offer in California. While the offer itself proves to be a sham, they encounter Merle Rideout, the photographer and inventor from the beginning of the book who has found his way to Hollywood. Rideout has not only learned about motion pictures, but he’s learned that he can extrapolate information from photographs to find out what happened before and after those pictures were taken. The one catch is that he doesn’t always see what happens in our timeline. Sometimes he sees different possible futures.
We close out part 4 as Merle catches up with his daughter Dally using an old photograph. What we don’t know yet is whether this is Dally as she is, or whether this is Dally as she might be. It’s like the Iceland Spar and Bilocation of earlier sections. People have choices and different choices make different realities.
I’ll have one last post after I finish part 5 to discuss final thoughts about this expansive novel along with my takeaways.