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Mason & Dixon is a postmodernist novel by American author Thomas Pynchon published in 1997. It centers on the collaboration of the historical Charles Mason and Jeremiah Dixon in their astronomical and surveying exploits in Cape Colony, Saint Helena, Great Britainmarker and along the Mason-Dixon linemarker in British North America on the eve of the American Revolutionary War.

Intermingled with Mason and Dixon's biographies, history, fantasy, legend, speculation, and outright fabrication, the novel is based on the focal point of one Rev. Wicks Cherrycoke, a clergyman of dubious orthodoxy, who attempts to entertain and divert his extended family on a cold December evening — partly for amusement, and partly to keep his coveted status as a guest in the house.

Plot structure

The novel's scope takes in aspects of established Colonial American history including the call of the West, the often ignored histories of women, Native Americans, and slaves, plus excursions into geomancy, Deism, a hollow Earth, and — perhaps — alien abduction. The novel also contains philosophical discussions and parables of automata/robots, the afterlife, slavery, feng shui and others. George Washington, Benjamin Franklin, Nevil Maskelyne, Samuel Johnson, Thomas Jefferson, and John Harrison's marine chronometer all make appearances. Pynchon provides an intricate conspiracy theory involving Jesuits and their Chinese converts, which may or may not be occurring within the nested and ultimately inexact narrative structure.

Rather than a mistake or flaw on Pynchon's part, this narrative structure is constructed to be inexact in a (perhaps paradoxically) precise fashion; it demonstrates the fragility, rather than the secure foundations, of any historical record, and indeed, history itself. The Cherrycoke narrative shifts internally from one point of view to another, often relating events from the view of people Cherrycoke has never met. His story shifts its emphasis based on which members of his family are in the room — veering toward the adventure-heroic when the young twin boys are listening, veering away from the homoerotic at the insistence of more prudish (and richer) relatives. Also, a parallel story read by two cousins, an erotic 'captured by Indians' narrative, works its way into the main thread of Cherrycoke's story, further blurring and finally obliterating the line between objective history and subjectivity — what "really happened" is nothing more than a construction of several narrators, perhaps one of whom directly is the author.

Pynchon employs the spelling, grammar, and syntax of an actual late 18th century document, further emphasizing the novel's intended anachronism.

In the end it is a story of two people who were "mates", as Doctor Isaac Mason puts it. John Krewson, writing for The Onion A.V. Club, observed "Whatever meanings and complex messages may lie hidden in Pynchon's text can, for now, be left to develop subconsciously as the reader enjoys the more immediate rewards of the work of a consummate storyteller. Pynchon is one, and he never quite lets you forget that while this might be an epic story, it's an epic story told to wide-eyed children who are up past their bedtime."

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