Friday, August 13, 2010

Thomas Pynchon's "Inherent Vice": Book Review

Fast-paced, readable, entertaining, even poignant: this satisfies even if by Pynchon's past work it's almost pulp fiction. On the cusp of the '70s, the hangover from the Manson murders throbs over L.A. It's like a yard at San Quentin, full of cons on the make, and the newcomer or innocent treads, or drives, cautiously.

There's a sadness beneath the satire of a detective novel. The mystery, typically for this author, deepens. Late on, a real estate developer boasts that there's an "inexhaustible supply" of suckers, those who will sign on to be on the take in a desolate, bleached Southern California sprawl where every raw arrival or cynical native wants in on the scam. There's an arrested development culturally: surf tunes pepper the prose. And intellectually, few in these pages appear to have read anything. Unlike other Pynchon plots, this moves nearly free of literary allusion or historical complexity, as if L.A. lives up to its stereotype arrogantly.

I liked this. The Lemurian tangents seemed off-base even for Pynchon, and I thought the ramblings could have been tightened. However, the story moves efficiently and far more rapidly than most Pynchon predecessors-- which I also admire (see my reviews recently of "Against the Day" and "V."), but for first-time readers, perhaps this novel might be recommended for its accessibility. It's far easier. Tonally, it's casual and easygoing, and seems a homage more than a parody of the gumshoe genre.

The title comes from an insurance phrase, a deep weakness that cannot be extricated from the larger chaos. Foreboding shrouds this setting like the fog along Gordita Beach in the South Bay, where Doc lives when not pursuing the mysteries all the way to Ojai and over to Las Vegas. He struggles to remain in the place, the moment, even as the era rapidly diminishes into nostalgia, barely a blink after the Summers of Love. Within the countercultural dawning of the Age of Aquarius, perhaps a bit of idealism remains, "this little parenthesis of light" left by the hippie dream before Manson. Many tried to escape the "great collective trap" of U.S. conformity, but the Feds and cops and developers and cults and criminals, it seems, have called in whatever they're owed by those who tried to change the world. The revolution seemed "pre-doomed."

The novel ends with a marvelous scene. Amidst the fog on the freeway, Doc drives off into the mystery that surrounds him. The cars trail each other at a safe distance, shepherding the driver before and after, and all, for at least one saving moment, look out for the other guy, all reduced to the same lights shadowed by the all-encompassing gloom. (Posted to Amazon US 6-11-10; See my review on "V." posted on the blog and Amazon US 8-11-10.)


Tony Bailie said...

I've lifted this book (and his other novels) half a dozen times when I see it in a bookshop and come close to parting with cash but always held back. More a case of too many other books on the go than not wanting to spend the money. But I think it will be harder to resist after reading this.

John L. Murphy / "Fionnchú" said...

Tony, his older novels are missing from most local libraries; but this one's in nearly every one. In time, will it be "lifted" no less diligently by Pynchon's fans? Like I said, an intellectual's beach novel even if read under an umbrella. Flows well if as baffingly as any other of his narratives, so maybe borrowing it from the library may be the option?

Anonymous said...

SO interesting Fionnchu! Go raibh maith agat x Eabha