I have a mild confession to make: I have never even attempted to read a Thomas Pynchon novel before. His reputation for general incoherence and genitalia-aimed rocket launches never really piqued my interest. However, his latest, Inherent Vice, a smoke-filled, hippie-laden crime novel, is another story altogether. Although there is a fair amount of jibber-jabber, meandering plotlines, and countless, hilariously named characters, none stopped me from loving every single word of it.
Larry “Doc” Sportello is a pot-smoking hippie private investigator living in L.A.’s Gordita Beach circa 1970. When his “ex-old lady” Shasta shows up at his door asking for help finding her kidnapped boyfriend, Mickey Wolfmann, Doc embarks on a bizarre, complex journey involving counterfeiting, drug-running, tax-dodging dentists (aka: “The Golden Fang”), blood-thirsty hitmen/loan sharks, swastika-tattooed Ethel Merman fans, revenge-filled, frozen-banana loving cops, zombie surfer bands, tripped out surf hippies, and undercover, reportedly-dead saxophone players. Populating this world with perfectly ridiculous names like Downstairs Eddie, Adrian Prussia, Bigfoot Bjornson, Puck Beaverton, Ensenada Slim, and Flaco the Bad (not to mention “Denis”, misprounounced by everyone like “penis”), Pynchon has taken the crime novel, blown enough weed smoke in its mouth to kill a college sophmore, and created something wholly different, bizarre, and completely brilliant. As much as I hate to categorize (as that cheapens the whole deal), Vice is like an Electric Kool Aid Acid Test-ed Hunter S. Thompson novel about “The Dude” (Lebowski) with strong Phillip Marlowe tendencies.
The biggest injustice you could do to this novel would be to take it at all seriously. Or to try to follow along, word-for-word, with Doc’s adventures. You’re much better off just sparking up that joint (metaphorically, I think) and going along for the ride, because even Pynchon doesn’t know where Doc is heading next, so the hell with it. Even though the plot is as gordian as knots get, it ends up not mattering one whit – this is just a day-in-the-life sort of thing and it’s better to not question it. Let Pynchon guide you along – his is a remarkable talent for dialogue, character, hell, even Doc’s space-out episodes are fascinating. (I found myself spacing out along with him, until another character snapped him back.) All I can tell you is that I loved every word I read – and I plan to read it all again. But I still don’t want to read Gravity’s Rainbow.
Not convinced by my rambling “review”? Check out the the promo video narrated by Pynchon himself:
More media & reviews:
-Be forewarned, this Pynchon wiki is not for the passive reader, but is “inherently” fascinating: http://inherent-vice.pynchonwiki.com/
–Another humorless review by the NYT’s Michiko Kakutani.
-The LA Times take, The Guardian, Salon.com