NEW YORK—It’s been a guessing game that has fascinated the book world all week: Did Thomas Pynchon write a campus farce called “Cow Country” and publish it in April under the pseudonym Adrian Jones Pearson?
The question was first raised in Harper’s magazine, which on Wednesday ran a long essay by the respected critic Art Winslow, who called the 540-page book “side-splittingly funny” and found enough similarities to Pynchon to make it plausible that the media-adverse author of “Gravity’s Rainbow” had also written “Cow Country.” Winslow, the former literary editor of The Nation, concluded that “an extremely confident sensibility is in control, one neither unpracticed nor hesitant.”
A sensibility that could belong to a writer as enigmatic and as playful as Thomas Pynchon.
But the real author, apparently, is far less known. The Associated Press traced the book’s publisher, Cow Eye Press, to a Western U.S. address and determined it was written by Anthony Perry, who as A.J. Perry previously wrote “Twelve Stories of Russia: A Novel, I Guess.” The AP then confirmed Perry’s identity with the literary scholar Steven Moore, who contributed a blurb to “Cow Country.” Moore, whose books include a two-volume history of the novel, said he has been in touch with Perry.
Responding by email to the AP, Perry declined to say whether he was Pearson, but did say that he believed “the author is superfluous to his work.”
“I’ve been saying this for a long time, in fact … long before Pearson took up the cause,” he wrote. “The focus should be on the texts, not the author, because the texts will always tell the truth.”
Hidden identities have long been a source of literary scavenger hunts. In 2013, J.K. Rowling released the detective novel “The Cuckoo’s Calling” under the name “Robert Galbraith.” In the 1990s, journalist Joe Klein initially stumped the political world when he anonymously published the novel “Primary Colors,” based on Bill Clinton’s 1992 presidential campaign.
Whether Perry or not, the brains behind “Cow Country” clearly enjoys a good joke. Cow Eye Press, established in 2014, also claims to be the publisher of “Portrait of the Artist as an Assessment Committee Chair,” a title that does not appear anywhere online besides the Cow Eye website. The book’s author, Norman Gorbington, just happens to be on the faculty of the school satirized in “Cow Country,” Cow Eye Community College.
Perry is reluctant to talk, but “Pearson” sounds a bit like him during an interview that appears in the publication Cow Eye Express. He noted that all of his books have “been published under separate pen names by different publishers in different countries” and that he expected to do the same with future works.
“I’ve always had a severe distaste for all the mindless biographical drivel that serves to prop up this or that writer,” he says. “So much effort goes into credentialing the creator that we lose sight of the creation itself, with the consequence being that we tend to read authors instead of their works.”
As of Friday night, enough people cared about Pearson and his book to make ‘Cow Country” a respectable No. 2544 on Amazon.com’s best-seller list.