Lit-urday: Inherent Vice
Pynchon's mystery soaks in the Sixties and SoCal surf culture
By Wayne Alan Brenner,
10:10AM, Sat. Nov. 22, 2014
It's been a long week, and now you deserve to have one day when you can curl up with a good book – let's call it Lit-urday. Maybe you're in the mood for a flashback – to the sunny days when acid wasn't just something you encountered in chem class – but also soaked in the sort of SoCal noir that made Chandler a household name. And literary, too. Have we got a book for you.
Inherent Viceby Thomas Pynchon Penguin Books, 384pp., $12
Getting near the middle of November already, and so between now and Jan. 9 (when the movie version of the book comes out nationally) you've got about two months in which to read Thomas Pynchon's Inherent Vice.
Thing is, it'll be a breeze.
Because what Inherent Vice isn't, is one of those Pynchons – Gravity's Rainbow, say, or Against the Day – that's thick as a brick and liable to fracture your headbone as you slog your way, happily or otherwise, through its labyrinthine quagmire of narrative textures, detail-porn orgies, and interior-monologuish recursions.
Because what Inherent Vice isn't, is a lesser thing like 1990's Vineland, wherein the master returned after so long an absence only to visit upon readers what seemed to be a work created by some almost sufficiently clever dude faking Pynchon while Tom Robbins kibitzed, sloppy drunk, over his shoulder.
Because, to be positive about it, what Inherent Vice is, is the most accessible Pynchon yet available from that legendary source – but also one that doesn't skimp on the familiarly brilliant digressions and tones, but rather dials that whole thing back just a skoshie and also couches it in terms of the stoner musings and acid-tinted reminiscences that so deliciously flavor this paean to the Sixties and Southern California surf culture and Raymond Chandler's indelible oeuvre.
Listen: The soon-to-be-released movie's directed by Paul Thomas Anderson – you know: There Will Be Blood and Magnolia and so on – and the trailer looks damned good, like it's going to be one of those films that's not any less awesome than the book, nor any more awesome than the book, but only slightly and perforce different from the book.
So, my point is, you should definitely read the book. Because it is awesome.
What's it about? Well, speaking of movies … you like The Big Lebowski? Not in the way that's evidenced by the sort of frat-boy acolytes who run and/or attend those *fnord* Lebowski Fests that have you might say encrusted the Coen Brothers' excellent source material by way of justifying ever heartier social partying, but in the way that an intelligent moviegoer will appreciate a superlative work of cinematic art and comedic American anthropology?
Then know this: Where the Coens' Lebowski was about this middled-aged stoner of a hippie schlub who gets tangled up in all manner of shady criminal shenanigans in the Nineties … Inherent Vice is about a somewhat younger stoner of a hippie schlub who also happens to be a licensed private investigator who gets tangled up in all manner of shady criminal shenanigans just as the Sixties are turning, for better and for worse, into the Seventies.
I mean, in a nutshell.
And it's Pynchon, you know? So there's songs, there's sex, there's deeper implications, there's cultural minutiae that'll have you rummaging through Wikipedia for months afterward. There's a book called Inherent Vice that is, ultimately, one of the most satisfying novels I've read in years, and I imagine you'll enjoy it too.
Also: Beware the Golden Fang.