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Thomas Pynchon: Inherent Vice

Remember when it wasn’t clear if Pynchon was ever going to write another book after Gravity’s Rainbow? Now he’s practically churning them out. The mammoth Against The Day was just published a couple of years ago, and now here’s Inherent Vice, which is — well, I guess you’d call it a hard-boiled detective novel, except that private eye Doc Sportello is more often baked than boiled. It’s Southern California circa 1970, and most of the scenes, as Sportello bounces back and forth from one typically paranoia-inducing coincidence to another, seem to involve either looking for weed or being offered it.

Despite the book’s brevity and fairly lighthearted tone, this is definitely Pynchon all right; it’s just that usually the goofiness is there balancing out the deep shit and rhapsodic prose-poetry that occupies the majority of his writing. Despite all the danger that Sportello gets into, you always get the sense that Pynchon is looking out for him and is not really going to let him come to harm. This feels like a relatively recent development; I didn’t get that sense from Pynchon’s earlier novels, and for goodness’ sake in Gravity’s Rainbow he lets the main character just kind of disappear two-thirds of the way through. Maybe he’s mellowing in his old age.

Anyway, it has lots of the things I generally dig about Pynchon. The sentence-to-sentence prose style is a tasty blend of informal and poetic (as compared to, say, David Foster Wallace’s tasty blend of informal and coldly analytical), and although the characterizations never seem to get that deep, they’re shallow in a pleasing way.

So I definitely did enjoy it, but then again I’m kind of a Pynchon fanatic. People seem to be claiming that it’s the best way to ease into Pynchon, and I see their point, but I’d actually recommend The Crying of Lot 49 first as a relatively painless introduction to the themes that permeate his work.

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