Thursday, September 24, 2009

Inherent Vice -- Thomas Pynchon

I've read three other Pynchon novels, but nothing since the publication of Gravity's Rainbow, well over 30 years ago. I don't know why. I liked V. a lot, and I also liked The Crying of Lot 49 and Rainbow. I always intended to read something else, but I just didn't. Now along comes Inherent Vice, a private-eye novel. I figured that was a sign of some kind, so I read it.

What is it with Pynchon and the letter V? I'll bet someone's already written a doctoral dissertation on the topic. Anyway, there's V. and then there's Gravity's Rainbow, which is, of course about the V-2 rocket and is therefore V-2. Then comes Vineland, which we'll call V-3. Now we get this new one, which, well, look at the initials. It's IV. I'm sure there's something in all this. But I don't know what.

Now about the book itself. The setting is around 1970. The '60s are still with us but winding down. I think that's probably the theme of the book. The times they are a-changin'. And not for the better. I wasn't too worried about historical details, but they sound right. Certainly the feel of the book is perfect. I wasn't in California at the time, but I was in Austin. Close enough.

And the book is funny, the funniest I've read in a long time. There's a laugh or two on every page, and that alone makes it worth reading. You also get the usual goofy Pynchon character names, which always make me smile. One woman is named Trillium Fortnight, which I think would have been perfect in a James Bond novel.

As for the plot, well, I can't summarize it. The word byzantine comes to mind. Doc Sportello, the stoner p.i. and center of consciousness of the story, is hired to find Mickey Wolfmann, a developer who's gone missing. Then he's hired for three or four other jobs, all of which are connected and all of which lead to the Golden Fang organization, which leads to government hitmen and conspiracies galore. Somehow Doc sorts all this out and ties it all up in the end. I think. I had to read V. twice, and I'll probably have to read this one again, too. But if it's not all clear the first time, it's still fun. I think I can safely promise you that you won't be reading another p.i. novel like this one for a long time.

Update: I forgot to mention that Pynchon should have put together a soundtrack CD for the novel. He's got more song references than you can shake a stick at. And of course he includes lyrics to his own songs as well.


Richard Robinson said...

There was a pretty interesting discussion of the book in the August issue of WIRED, with a map of southern California showing the places in the book and mentioning their connection to Pynchon's life. It's not a long article, but worth a look.

BTW, there is a review, but not the map or it's article, at the Wired site.

Brian said...

Heh -- you just managed to complete one of my half baked thoughts from not too long ago about the whole V, IV thing

Bill Crider said...

See, I knew there was something in it.

George said...

I enjoyed INHERENT VICE just about as much as you did, Bill. I was glad to see it was one of Pynchon's smaller books. The reading public must like this book because it's on the Best Sellers lists.