Last April, a small publishing house called Cow Eye Press released its first novel—a 540-page community-college farce titled Cow Country written by an unknown author named Adrian Jones Pearson. Its release went widely unnoticed.
The few reviews the book garnered were positive, though the San Francisco Book Review's assertion that Cow Country is a keen-edged social commentary" loses some of its heft when you remember that the publication will review your book for a price. Cow Country was not a book that seemed destined to be the subject of a 3,000-word feature in Harper's Magazine by Art Winslow, but on Wednesday, it became exactly that.
The premise of the Harper's piece was simple, though maybe a bit insane: Could Adrian Jones Pearson actually be the pseudonym of Thomas Pynchon, the famously reclusive author who penned Gravity's Rainbow and The Crying of Lot 49? Is the whole thing—the novel, the publishing house, and the Pearson author interview—some kind of Pynchon meta-fiction bleeding into reality?
The Harper's theory sounds like a convoluted conspiracy straight from pages of Inherent Vice, and it has about the same anti-climactic conclusion Lot 49 did, leaving us without any solid answers. But the article does try to make a case.
"Encountering Cow Country was like going to a thrift shop and finding designer clothing with the labels cut off," Art Winslow wrote in the Harper's story. Later saying that, "My highly subjective but very strong impression is that [Pearson and Pynchon] are closer than kissing cousins, they are joined at the hip."
Winslow holds up one very Pynchon-eque line in Cow Country as proof, in which Pearson lists off community-college faculty names "like night through a windshield: Jumpston and Drumright and Manders and Poovey… Crotwell and Voyles. Kilgus and Spratlin and Yaxley and Jowers."
He continues to point out parallels in the two authors' prose, but the real meat of the theory reveals itself when Winslow starts digging into the world surrounding the novel—the publishing house and the author himself.
Cow Eye Press's street address doesn't lead to any real office, it instead dead-ends at a firm specializing in "virtual offices" in Cheyenne, Wyoming—the kind of street address façade used by shell corporations and patent trolls. Pearson's author bio plainly admits the name is a fake, saying his work "has been published under multiple pseudonyms. Including this one."
The publisher of Cow Eye Press, Natalie Zeldner, must be fake too, since she doesn't even have a LinkedIn, and the Cow Country Wikipedia page—whose sole editor is a user named "nzeldner"—primarily cites a fictional newspaper.
Is this all Pynchon laying clues to his true identity, or just Winslow over-analyzing an unknown author's byzantine marketing scheme? Or is Winslow just another pawn in the dense web of Pynchon's Cow Country fiction?
Maybe Pynchon has been Winslow all along, slowly working his way up as literary editor at The Nation all these years, biding his time before he could pitch the conspiracy theory article to Harper's and add another meta-layer to his diabolical game. Or not.
"If I am in error," Winslow writes, "to the person hiding behind Pearson I would say, To be taken for Pynchon is no small compliment but an enormous one, and your mimetic abilities in emulation of his sensibility are admirable. To Pynchon, I would say, Don't fret, and issue a reminder that imitation is the highest form of flattery, no?"
Is it Pynchon? Probably not. It's just as likely that Winslow himself wrote Cow Country and this is part of his inventive scheme to get the word out—and even more likely that Pearson is just some small-time author who apes Pynchon's style a little too hard.
That said, this wouldn't be the first time a famous author has tried to slip a pseudonymous book in under the radar—maybe Pynchon's trying to pull a Don DeLillo or something.
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