I have just finished two hefty novels - both on J Slick's recommendation, and both of which I loved. Thanks, Slick.
Cryptonomicon by Neal Stephensen is a dense action packed swashbuckling adventure story set in the present day, and also circa world war 2. It is good old fashioned storytelling at its best. What makes it stand out is that it is filled with lots of interesting IT related detail, and is (as far as I could tell, anyway) historically accurate. The author also switches 'voices' in a way that is both subtle and unmistakable. It sometimes seems like different authors are at work (that is praise,not criticism). It took me a while to get into - but once I was hooked,I could not put it down. If I had to list a criticism, it would only be that the narratives intersect and resolve a little too neatly. But this is a very minor gripe (and from someone who likes the non-ending of Infinite Jest!). This is 'easy reading' - not in the sense that it does not engage the intellect, or is not well written,or does not provoke thought - just that the plot creates a compelling momentum all of its own. I would not have found this novel by myself - it lies outside of what I usually read.
Chronic City by Jonathan Lethem is more the type of book I usually go for. It reads like a dope-fueled-paranoid-dream/nightmare sequence: but with plot; and all wrapped in cotton-wool. By that I mean that shocking details are revealed gently, in layers.
The smoke-hazy narrative works - although it does generate (pleasant?) confusion - but this is exactly the intention of the author. The foggy atmosphere is the perfect vehicle to convey his central theme, which is about the nature of reality, and whether the distinction between what is real and what is not even matters. I found myself constantly being forced to reevaluate what I thought I knew about the 'facts' - even from page to page sometimes. I think I know the truth by the end of the novel...but then again...
The 2 books are very different but also similar in some ways. Paranoia, conspiracy theory and the nature of consciousness feature prominently in both. Both rely on well written dialogue. Both are somewhat surreal- and highly detailed. Both are recommended.
There are also some interesting connections between those 2, and the other book I am busy with, Underworld by Don De Lillo. Underworld is going to take a while to finish though. De Lillo certainly was a big influence on Lethem (he acknowledges this himself). But then again, it seems that everyone 'of a certain time' was influenced by de Lillo and/or Pynchon: ie: Post-modernism.