“Inherent Vice” by Thomas Pynchon

Sax von Stroheim writes:

200px-Inherent_vice_cover

Short enough and readable enough that I sailed through it, but I only ever semi-enjoyed it, and, looking back at it, overall, holistically, it’s a bit of a bummer. Pynchon’s Raymond Chandler/Philip K. Dick trip is skin deep and the gags either become a burden (all the gonzo character names get old after a few chapters-worth of reading about the likes of Japonica Fenway and Puck Beaverton), never really get off the ground (the plotting seems to be deliberately rudimentary, in the manner of a second-rate Chandler knock-off, but deliberate or not it makes the book less interesting), or remain inscrutable (why all the references to Arrested Development?). Halfway through I started to think my time would be better spent: re-reading The High Window or A Scanner Darkly or going back and reading The Crying of Lot 49 again to remind myself why I liked Pynchon in the first place.

And I do like Pynchon: Crying is one of my favorite novels, and I think V. and Vineland are pretty terrific (despite their flaws). Speaking of Vineland, one of the things I really dig about that book is that it seems to express some kind of authentic 1960’s, counterculure sensibility, but in Inherent Vice that sensibility seems second hand: “The Sixties”TM rather than the 1960’s.

Finally, every now and then some genre author will complain about how “lit fic” writers get undeserved accolades from high brow critics for doing the same things their more pop oriented brethren are doing to less acclaim. But even though I’m probably a bigger fan of pop writing than “lit fic”, I usually find those complaints to be misguided at best and sour grapes at worst, mainly because “lit fic” authors aren’t doing, simply, the same thing as pop writers: they’re doing something weirder, more esoteric, and more hermetic than trying to tell a compelling story with interesting characters. In this case, though, I did keep thinking that Inherent Vice was sailing awfully close to being one of the gonzo caper novels that Carl Hiaasen used to be the master of, and that the only reason high brows were taking it at all seriously was because of Pynchon’s pedigree.

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6 Responses to “Inherent Vice” by Thomas Pynchon

  1. OKalright, you convinced me. I didn’t like “Gravity’s Rainbow” at all but I’ll give “Lot 49” a try and bring as open a mind to it as possible.

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  3. I read V many years ago and liked it, it didn’t take itself so seriously. I couldn’t get through anything else though.

    On a side note, Pynchon to some degree ruined Ed Abbey’s writing, in my view. Abbey seemed obsessed with getting positive reviews from the New York biggies, and set out to do it with Fool’s Progress. He failed at being Pynchon, but then Pynchon failed at that too so why not?

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  4. Toddy Cat says:

    “The Sixties”TM rather than the 1960’s.”

    Good distinction here. Yeah, the 1960’s were protest marches, Vietnam, and the Summer of Love, but they were also Herb Alpert and the Tijuana Brass (they had the number one album in 1968), guys volunteering to serve in Vietnam (a lot more than dodged the draft), and the “Silent Majority” voting for Nixon. Not a simple time, and its true history has yet to be written. How about it, Paleo Retiree?

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    • Sax von Stroheim says:

      Herb Alpert does make a brief appearance in Inherent Vice, to its credit.

      Reading it did make me want to watch those Roger Corman Hippie-sploitation movies (The Trip, Psych Out) again, though. I think that kind of Midnite Movie vibe was partly what Pynchon was going for, but he’s too uptight to pull it off.

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