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Inherent Vice ~ Thomas Pynchon

August 25, 2009

Genre: Adult Fiction

Publisher: Penguin Press

384 pages


Listen: if I wanted to reread Gravity’s Rainbow, I would reread Gravity’s Rainbow. I may start pulling my hair out if I keep reading (maybe I should stop reading) reviews asking the ridiculous question: And maybe perhaps, T.P. could explain what possessed him to write a cheesy noire novel? As best I can remember, noire is a perfectly acceptable category of literature/film. Doyle, Hitchcock, Chandler, these are not pulp, folks. The other complaint is that Doc Sportello is a big old, Lebowski-like stoner, prone to hippie slang and psychedelic ramblings. For some reason this offends some Pynchon fans but the offense is lost on me.

Well, maybe I’ve figured it out. See, here’s the thing: these concepts are so completely and utterly Pynchon that perhaps, the irony is lost on his normal readers. They are too busy telling people that they are offended by pot (because no drug has ever so much as reared its fuzzy head in a Pynchon novel before?)  and cheesed out by the plot (also, something that has, regardless of contrary claims, appeared before) that they can’t see Inherent Vice for what it is: perfect. Pynchon has always created strange story lines with uncountable characters and writing that resembles a bad (or good depending on which half of the sentence you’re reading) trip.

If you haven’t picked up on it yet, I’ll tell you now: I enjoyed Inherent Vice. The writing is hilarious in the (gasp) usually Pynchon style. While, I can’t make you like the alleged Cheech and Chong dialogue “issue” if you aren’t in the mood (and then why, pray tell did you pick up the book having read the synopsis, regardless of writer), I think that actually reading the book, keeping in mind that it is not a beach read will change your mind on the pesky area of detective plot.

Now, since the man doesn’t actually believe in public interaction, we’ll never know but I think that the goal in following the noire mold was a simultaneous parody and tribute to the mystery genre. There is a great section where they shoot through Sherlock Holmes’s coke use and debatable existence during which I found myself wondering who on earth people thought wrote this book if not Pynchon.

Later in the evening, the two men settle in to a discussion where real cops and PI’s are deemed unneeded as there are already enough running around on the small screen. This is, from where I’m sitting, the “point” of using the noire device that so many people are looking for although, I still maintain that it is not something that needs to be explained if the writing is inherently funny and provocative.

As for the other themes, the small surf town is caught between the sleepy sixties and the corporate seventies. Here, watching the beach change seems to be a main focus, the surfers, the shop owners, the very survival, or rather demise, of the town in the changing climate.

My favorite part of Pynchon’s stories is the way he writes his characters as clichés and point makers rather than straight people. We are introduced to very Pynchon-like fellows and females ranging (but not limited to, of course) from Shasta, the classic Femme Fatale (hello noire); Bigfoot, the hippie-hating cop; Spike, the hippie-friendly but also hippie-phobic, war-scared Nam vet and St. Flip, a religious surfer (and a religious surfer) “for whom Jesus Christ was not only a personal savior but surfing consultant as well.” (p.99) While I’d like to type up his five-page introduction, I’ll just leave you with this:

“Back in the beach pad there was a velvet painting of Jesus riding goofyfoot on a rough-hewn board with outriggers, meant to suggest a crucifix, through surf seldom observed on the Sea of Galilee, though this hardly presented a challenge to Flip’s faith. What was ‘walking on water,’ if it wasn’t Bible talk for surfing? In Australia once, a local surfer, holding the biggest can of beer Flip had ever seen, had even sold him a fragment of the True board.” (p.99)

I will make one concession. Doc, himself, was just the leaf in the wind and, here, I think was the main problem for many. Often, as in Gravity’s Rainbow, Against the Day and V. the story shifts point-of-view multiple times, the main protagonist never really being the complete focus, thus leaving him a little flat. Here, every person is painted through Doc’s personal record. While, in truth, all of the myriad players are there and covered much as they are in any other Pynchon novel, I suppose that this creates a problem if people are looking for someone to tell them that there are still other characters involved in the story even if the book is narrated through one voice.

As far as the prose is concerned, I am, quite frankly, lost. As mentioned above, what has, until now, seemed “totally Pynchon” has an explanation. Remember that bit about the squid kidnapping the girl on the beach in Gravity’s Rainbow? Now why wasn’t that described as a bad acid trip, a cheesy device while very similar scenes, clearly drug induced, in Inherent Vice are hung out to dry? Is it that without a motive these things seem cool and intellectual but in the fog of some burnout they are less enticing because they are altered, not academic? Similarly, the genre of mystery, noir or pulp, lends itself to myriad shady characters popping in for no reason at all. I say, hey, that sounds a lot like V. to me. It also sounds like Gravity’s Rainbow and also, a bit like Against the Day. Again, the same question, because it fits, is it inherently bad?

I really do think that this is right in line with the other works in Pynchon’s library. It may not pick up to regular incoherent speed until a little further in but it is Pynchon through and through. I don’t think this is going to go down as a beach read unless you don’t read it and instead write your opinion based on the cover art. Of course, you are perfectly welcome to do that, though, if you would like. Pynchon is, after all, into subjectivity.

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2 Comments leave one →
  1. August 25, 2009 10:47 am

    Glad you actually enjoyed this one. I’m not a huge Pynchon fan. . . in fact I have NO desire to re-read “Gravity’s Rainbow.” However, I am tempted by this one.


  1. BTT: Recent Enjoyable « Iwriteinbooks's Blog

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