4. Inherent Vice by Thomas Pynchon
Prior to reading Inherent Vice, I had never had the courage to even attempt to read a Pynchon novel. This is quite different than his usual fare of 1000-page tomes filled with stream-of-consciousness prose. See the full Catapult review, much excerpted here:
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 sophomore, and created something wholly different, bizarre, and completely brilliant. 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?) 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.