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Part noir, part psychedelic romp, all Thomas Pynchonprivate eye Doc Sportello comes, occasionally, out of a marijuana haze to watch the end of an era as free love slips away and paranoia creeps in with the LA fogIt's been awhile since Doc Sportello has seen his exgirlfriend, Shasta Fay Suddenly out of nowhere she shows up with a story about a plot to kidnap a billionaire land developer whom she just happens to be in love with Easy for her to say It's the tail end of the psychedelic sixties in LA and Doc knows that love is another of those words going around at the moment, like trip or groovy, except that this one usually leads to trouble Despite which he soon finds himself drawn into a bizarre tangle of motives and passions whose cast of characters includes surfers, hustlers, dopers and rockers, a murderous loan shark, a tenor sax player working undercover, an excon with a swastika tattoo and a fondness for Ethel Merman, and a mysterious entity known as the Golden Fang, which may only be a tax dodge set up by some dodgy dentistsIn this lively yarn, Thomas Pynchon, working in an unaccustomed genre, provides a classic illustration of the principle that if you can remember the sixties, you weren't thereorif you were there, then youor, wait, is it hang onwhat


10 thoughts on “Inherent Vice

  1. Jeffrey Keeten Jeffrey Keeten says:

    Disclaimer: at no time was the reviewer stoned, tweaked, inebriated or involved in any felony endeavors during the reading of this book.

    I have read other people referring to this as Pynchon Lite which reminds me of food off the vegetarian menu. I haven't read enough Pynchon to be an authority on whether this is medium well Pynchon or medium rare. The only other Thomas Pynchon I've ever read is Gravity's Rainbow, but I will say there is certainly plenty of meat on the bone in Inherent Vice.

    Let me tell you about my trip, man.

    Our intrepid hero Doc Sportello is the owner and operator of LSD Investigations. Under the back drop of peace, love and revolution(right after I finish one more doobie)in 1969. Doc is asked by his ex-girlfriend Shasta Fay Hepworth, yes the novel is full of wonderfully concocted Pynchonesque names, to help her out of jam. Shasta has been approached by the wife of the man she is involved with, Mickey Wolfmann, and her boyfriend with a plan to kill Mickey. This is one of those cases, prevalent in American hard boiled literature where the detective basically lives on air because he is always taking on hard luck cases that have no chance to actually pay him for his time.

    Doc is really not a very good detective. He falls asleep on stakeouts, he forgets most of what he has figured out from the investigation, and he frequently says the wrong thing. He walks around in a permanent pot haze that contributes to the afore mentioned reasons why he isn't a very good detective. As the novel progresses the reader is exposed to a blur of characters. The plot becomes more convoluted to the point that Doc and the reader are left wondering who and what he is really investigating. Doc, for a pot smoking hippie, or maybe because of it, gets laid a lot. The summer of love was 1967, but still in 1969 the women are willing, especially with a guy walking around with a shirt pocket full of joints.

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    During the course of his investigations Doc gets bludgeoned from behind (it is not a real noir novel until the detective gets popped from behind) and during another altercation is spiked with a really bad trip.

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    Even though this book is considered more accessible I still would have a difficult time suggesting this to a mystery reading crowd. The plot is not linear at all, sentences appear out of the fog that squeeze your head and make you have to reread them. Sometimes I had to backtrack a whole page just to understand one sentence. I would find myself smiling and thinking there you are Mr. Pynchon. The rampant paranoia that is wrapped around every scene in the book did start to have a psychological effect on me. I'm pretty sure that all my coworkers are involved in a nefarious conspiracy to destroy my life. It is only paranoia if I'm wrong, right?

    To give you a little flavor of the book. Doc has just been brought in for questioning by the DAs office. They leave him alone for a moment and he notices something strange about the clock.

    The clock up on the wall, which reminded Doc of Elementary school back in the San Joaquin, read some hour that it could not possibly be. Doce waited for the hands to move, but they didn't, from which he deduced that the clock was broken and maybe had been for years. Which was groovy however because long ago Sortilege had taught him the esoteric skill of telling time from a broken clock. The first thing you had to do was light a joint, which in the Hall of Justice might seem odd, but surely not way back here--who knew, maybe even outside the jurisdiction of local drug enforcement--though just to be on the safe side he also lit a De Nobili cigar and filled the room with a precautionary cloud of smoke from the classic mafia favorite. After inhaling potsmoke for a while, he glanced up at the clock, and sure enough, it showed a different time now, though this could also be from Doc having forgotten where the hands were to begin with.

    It did take me a while to settle into the book, but once I divested myself of the preconceived notions of what I expected from the book I was able to relax and enjoy the high I mean ride.

    If you wish to see more of my most recent book and movie reviews, visit http://www.jeffreykeeten.com
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  2. s.penkevich s.penkevich says:

    Inherent Vice: Hidden defect (or the very nature) of a good or property which of itself is the cause of (or contributes to) its deterioration, damage, or wastage.¹

    The trouble with Time is that it always proceeds forward. Reshaping and rusting all that lies in it’s path despite those that cling to the summery present of their endless numbered days, Time changes everything and leaves us with a maze of memory. Thomas Pynchon’s Inherent Vice[2009] flourishes in it’s immersion of the death of the 60’s decade, rife with counterculture beach-goers living eternally in the momentary highs of life while a shadow of future and change creeps silently over them. Built on the bricks of noir, feeling like a furthering of the style that galvanized the mysteries in The Crying of Lot 49, Pynchon delivers a fun labyrinth of secrets and conspiracy peopled with a wide cast of characters for the reader to navigate, hoping for a redemptive exit that might shine some light on the mystery therein. Through this labyrinth we follow Larry Doc Sportello, who is the perfect embodiment of the noir PI hero: a good man not without his share of flaws that must walk down the mean streets of a crime world far larger than he could imagine, beset on all sides by evil and corruption. Along the path, Doc feels the world of his 60’s-spirited kinfolk shrinking in the clutches of an ever-expanding landscape of corruption as time marches forward into an unknown future. He must ‘find his way out of a vortex of corroded history, to evade somehow a future that seemed dark whichever way he turned…’ Though smaller in scope than his greatest works, Pynchon imagines an L.A. detective novel with all the twists, turns and paranoia one has come to expect and love from him, looking back on a decade now gone as it is ushered into a menacing future dangling from the puppet strings of an elaborate chain of power and control.

    I have seldom had as much enjoyment from a novel as I did with Inherent Vice. Pynchon once again executes a masterful balancing of the ‘brows’, the highs and lows, while avoiding in the scornful realm of the Middlebrow as Virginia Woolf so warned against². There is mystery and intrigue adorned with puns and humor that propel the book and keep the reader seated comfortably flipping pages with eager glee, and while it is noticeably more accessible and less sprawling than Pynchon’s more notable masterpieces, Vice still retains a vast, web-like undercurrent of highly researched and ponderous ideas and themes. As in Gravity's Rainbow, Pynchon uses real-life events, such as the NBA playoffs between the Lakers and the Knicks to pin his stories to a life-like calendar. Not only does it ground it in reality as an anchor for the goofiness, but also adds a depth of meaning to the actions of characters such as Doc’s return of a package on May 7th, 1970 being the day of Ascension (redemption not only for Doc but mostly for the dead-and-risen character of Coy Harlington³). As with all of Pynchon’s novels, there could be a collection of footnotes to explain cultural references and allusions that would dwarf the actual novel in pages of print. To label the novel ‘Pynchon-lite’ would be to bastardize the content and thought that sings out from every page; while this may be small in scope and stature, and more easily traveled compared to his other novels, Pynchon still does what he does best and never fails to live up to his intellectual reputation.

    All the Pynchon hallmarks are alive and well in Vice, from the song lyrics positioned throughout—mostly heard on the radio alongside actual songs from the era, puns and wordplay without need to call attention to the cleverness (my personal favorite being when a character asks Doc if he is seeing a therapist and he replies that she—being his girlfriend, is actually a DA and the conversation continues without missing a beat), and the silly names that offer character insight (such as the pimp, Jason Velveeta, with a last name to illuminate how ‘cheesy’ and fake he is). While it is often emphasized how fluidly and comfortably Pynchon moves in the noir style, it seems more necessary to note that he shows dexterity in a variety of styles and fully embraces a genre that held important elements to many of his novels and the mysteries and conspiracies that danced within them. Due to the twisting plots and drug-culture humor, the book is often compared to the Coen’s film The Big Lebowski, which is a safe comparison but also feels akin to referring to anything of surreal nature as being ‘like David Lynch’. That said, Lingonberry pancakes do get special mention, as well as ‘Little Larry’, so the comparison, or at least inspiration, may not be off the mark.

    ‘[A]s long as American life was something to be escaped from, the cartel could always be sure of a bottomless pool of new customers.’

    Once the pin of the mystery is pulled, the novel explodes into an intentionally difficult-to-keep-straight blast of plot-lines, all stemming from the same original shell. Like the photos of the early kidnapping that Doc examines, the closer you look, the more the image blurs. What is Goldfang, and who is pulling the strings that seem to include the mob, the LAPD, and even the FBI? Pynchon, as per usual, examines the ‘mob behind the mob’, the force that can only be seen in shadowy fragments but seems to have a finger in all the pies and leaves you questioning if anything is coincidence or merely an over-elaborate orchestration to simulate coincidence. Every time it appears he has reached the top of the mysteries food-chain, it is discovered there is still a larger mouth higher up. Goldfang, in it’s many forms, becomes more an elusive symbol of corrupted power, a shadow that we can chase but never grasp. It is the beast that preys upon the weak, and uses our weaknesses and good-naturedness against us in order to control us. It is the player of the chessboard of life that we are only vaguely aware in fleeting, paranoid glimpses that we are an unwitting part. While the plot may seem overly coincidental and contrived, this is the exact point and functions as a flawless metaphor of capitalist conspiracy, and helps instill paranoia and confusion into the reader much as it does for Doc. Can he trust his hippie-bashing LAPD contact, or is he just pointing Doc in the right direction to take the bullets for him? Can he trust his girlfriends, or will they shop him to the FBI for their own personal gain/safety? Can he trust a local favorite band, or are they right-winged zombied activists? Can Doc even trust himself, or is his Doper’s Memory blurring his mind?

    It is this control of power that is blotting out the hippie movement with every day that passes in Doc’s 1970’s time. With the Manson case taking center stage in the media, breeding fear of hippies for possible cult connections, the age of love and freedom and counterculture goodness is aging into a new and foggy future.

    ...about how the Psychedelic Sixties, this little parenthesis of light, might close after all, and all be lost, taken back into darkness… how a certain hand might reach terribly out of the darkness and reclaim the time, easy as taking a joint from a doper and stubbing it out for good.
    What was once a fun-loving and innocent lifestyle began to be connotated with dread and danger, and, as seen with Goldfang, those with power had found ways to simply use the counterculture as a method for exploitation. An entertaining passage is found in the Goldfang handbook by Doc:
    Interpersonal Situations. Section Eight - Hippies [with Pynchon it is likely not a coincidence that hippies are under section eight, a military code for discharging a member who is deemed mentally unfit for service]Dealing with the Hippie is generally straightforward. His childlike nature will usually respond positively to drugs, sex and/or rock and roll, although in which order these are to be deployed must depend on conditions specific to the moment.


    The setting of Los Angeles, California couldn’t be a more perfect location for the novel and all it’s intentions. L.A. is a common stomping grounds for detective noir novels, from Dashiell Hammett, Raymond Chandler, or even the Coen’s The Big Lebowski, and just the mention already draws the reader into the tangled streets of murder and mystery. However, this also ties in with the compound metaphor of Lemuria— a theoretical (yet now debunked) Atlantis of the Pacific Ocean, the refugees of the sunken continent supposedly finding a new home on Mount Shasta in California; Shasta being the name of Doc’s ex-old lady who sets the plot in motion and functions as both a lost landscape of his life and a possible place of refuge for him as a honorable man in his attempts to unlock her mystery (though ultimately being realized, as Jay Gatsby must learn, a past we can never return to). Lemuria is also a wonderful metaphor of the sinking counterculture at the turn of the decade, a decade marked by the Cambodia protest and President Nixon. The refugees of this sinking culture must swim to the shores of an unknown and ominous future

    ‘...the prints of her bare feet already collapsing into rain and shadow, as if in a fool’s attempt to find his way back into a past that despite them both had gone on into a future it did.’

    Inherent Vice is always looking forward, showing the death of the 60’s and the birth of the 70’s. Here is ushered in a new age of technology, such as the ARPAnet—a prototype internet that is able to scan and monitor the livelihoods of people. Most prominent is the examination of a booming television culture during this time. Television became an entertainment that kept people safely in their homes, passively watching the hours slip away glued to their television sets; the ‘Toobfreex’ hotel with the television remote controls ‘bolted to the ends of the beds’ makes for a small but sinister metaphor. Television has become another method for the powers-that-be to turn a profit by offering pleasure, much in the way Goldfang has found a method of supplying drugs to the masses and also offering a variety of programs and institutions to help them kick the habit. They control the fall and the redemption. Television and drugs are best tied together when Doc discovers Dennis staring at a bag of heroin as if it were a television set—he did find it hidden inside a tv box, and then Doc, Denis and Jade find themselves nearly unable to turn away from staring at the package as if it were high entertainment. What is worse is that the future seems to be replacing authenticity with a stylized, and easily controlled, pseudo-reality, such as the casino plan to use computer screens instead of actual slot-machines to control the winnings and thwart those with the magic-touch or the U.S. Mint reducing the amount of actual silver in their coins. Everything must be turned into a profit-making machine, controlled and operated by the right people who can also be controlled. When someone steps out of line, like Mickey Wolfmann and his guilty conscience, they must be readjusted or disappear.

    Inherent Vice is a fun, wild ride with Doc through the beaches, bars and back-alleys of early 1970 L.A., but the sort of fun and entertainment that doesn’t skimp on the intellectual as well. Through a tangle of plots, that may or may not be related, or may or may not even necessarily resolve but more ‘dissolve’ and fade away once they are understood enough, the reader is sure to get their kicks following Doc on his misadventures deeper into the heart of mystery. Humor, romance, music and plenty of weed, this book is a rocking party that registers on all levels of entertainment and pleasure. The final pages are among the best Pynchon has written. With Inherent Vice, we find Pynchon lovingly looking backwards towards an era long gone and watch as that era looks forward into the future with discomfort and growing nostalgia for the days slipping away. The future is a fog that, to navigate, we must all work together to help one another out lest we all lose our way. Where the gaze of Pynchon looking back and the past looking forward meet, there is nothing but pure genius to be found.

    4/5

    ‘Was it possible, that at every gathering—concert, peace rally, love-in, be-in, and freak-in, here, up north, back East, wherever—those dark crews had been busy all along, reclaiming the music, the resistance to power, the sexual desire from epic to everyday, all they could sweep up, for the ancient forces of greed and fear?’

    ¹ from http://www.businessdictionary.com This is an apt title for the book, adding commentary on many of the themes, such as the decline of the 60's, the original sin idea, and in keeping with Pynchon's overarching themes of entropy.
    ² Woolf’s letter, titled Middlebrow in The Death of the Moth and Other Essays discusses the difference between high, low and, the scornful middlebrows of the world. She accepts both highs and lows but detests the way the middlebrow is bastardizing all forms of art and life, ending her letter with the wonderful: ‘if any human being, man, woman, dog, cat, or half-crushed worm dares call me ‘middlebrow’, I will take my pen and stab him, dead.’ Luckily for Pynchon, he can fluctuate between highbrow intellectualism and lowbrow humor without jeopardizing the seriousness and literary-ness of his work.
    ³ There are some wonderful Jesus imagery used around the supposed rebirth of Coy, particularly a Last Supper-like pizza party.

    ----A brief note on the film: (view spoiler)[I just saw this one last night and it is quite well done. I urge any fan of Paul Thomas Anderson or Pynchon (or both) to check this out as I felt it did a solid job transposing Pynchon's mind onto a visible screen. While some bits were cut and explanations rather simplified, the feeling of a labyrinth of conspiracy still rings true. This film makes up for all the times I've sat in a theater feeling slowly let down and protesting to myself 'that is not how this was at all' or 'they cut my favorite bits!'. The dialogue is spot on, the cast is wonderfully chosen and the soundtrack adds to an atmosphere so unnerving that you wonder if its just Dopers paranoia or expert film-making that has got your heart beating. I am quite impressed and satisfied. (hide spoiler)]


  3. Geoff Geoff says:

    ~

    description
    Pizzaset over the Pacific

    ~

    If, in Pynchonese, traveling East is to go “against the day”, into the past, memory, regret, impossibility, and if traveling West is to go “with the day”, into the future, the unknown, maturation, the coming of the next generation, toward acceptance of age and death, then where, in the geography of the imagination, is Doc Sportello’s Los Angeles? As far West as the continent can run until it comes up against the great vastness of the Pacific, and one has to stop, struck dumb and humbled by the leagues and depths of total inhumanity and noisy mystery out there, or one must learn to glide on the surface of the depths, like a surfer, or vault toward the sun and over it all in flight like an airplane or a bird, or one swims deep, and faces death by water, or one simply takes up residence on the beach and digs the radiant spray and the mysteries and ghosts of the Eternal Present.

    I loved every page of this book, Pynchon riffing on The Big Lebowski by way of Dashiell Hammett and Raymond Chandler, Lebowski already by way of them anyway, and the Coens’ entire oeuvre owing something to Pynchon, so then we can contemplate the influenced influencing the original influence, and that network of relations becomes pleasantly complex. So why not ignore all of that entirely and let’s say what we have here is a genre piece, and so there are requirements, noir requirements, and that Pynchon handles all of these deftly. I see Inherent Vice as of a piece with Mason & Dixon and Against The Day, not in ambition or scale, but in a kind of compression of motifs worked out at large in those two Big Novels- the tyranny of Time, Light and Absence, invisible worlds or dimensions beyond the horizon of our perception interacting with our reality, sometimes manifest in dreams, determination and free will, the layers and mechanisms and hidden motives of Power, the machinations of authority, manipulation, paranoia, illusion, where the essence of the human being resides in all of this, the importance of others to help see us through. American weirdness. The Sixties obeyed their own weird death drive, and Inherent Vice is about the death of that dream, or when that dream turned into a nightmare, blood spraying in psychedelic fountains all over the walls, and those became words too, like Pig, because Charles Manson is a presiding ghost here, and Vietnam too, amid congeries of ghosts. The dead walk and everyone has their double and triple motives, and there is Surf Rock in fucking spades, but this is Pynchon, so it's all hilarious and bizarre and deeply, intelligently crafted in liquid electric prose.

    There’s strata of preposterous nomenclature. Lots and lots of weed is smoked. Tacos are eaten. There are dangerously attractive women in short skirts and a litany of cars almost as sexy and dangerous. Nefarious plots that unfold like a magnolia and never close. Gilligan’s Island & Godzilla. The whole thing feels like trying to plot the coordinates of someone’s dream, to quote someone else. It’s pure fun, and at its heart is the fall of America from its promised Eden, so it’s sadly beautiful and moving at times, but briefly, because this shape shifting surreality is a Doper’s Memory and possible hallucination, a tragicomedy, the short-term falling off into fogs of the past, and the future, or What's Ahead, sunblind, or materializing in presences and essences obscured by mist. It’s set to music and language that fixes itself to certain days past, but the Doc is timeless. A bad man trying to do good in the fallen world.


  4. Kemper Kemper says:

    Reading this book gave me a serious urge to watch The Big Lebowski again.

    Larry ‘Doc’ Sportello is a private investigator in LA in 1969, and he’s also a damn dirty hippie who smokes dope constantly. Doc gets a visit from his old girlfriend Shasta who has been seeing married and wealthy Mickey Wolfman. Wolfman’s wife and her boyfriend want Shasta to help them with a scam to get Mickey committed to an asylum, but Shasta feels guilty and wants Doc to help Mickey out.

    Doc no sooner gets started than he gets blamed for a murder by his arch enemy LAPD Detective Bigfoot Bjornsen who has nothing but contempt for hippies. Mickey and Shasta have vanished, and while Doc tries to wrap his foggy brains around these developments, he’s also approached by another woman who claims that her boyfriend, a saxophone player in a surf band that supposedly died of an overdose, is still alive.

    The Crying of Lot 49 is the only other Pynchon I’ve read, and this one has the same kind of hazy vast conspiracy lurking in the background . And like that one, I was left kind of liking the book in a general sort of way while thinking that Pynchon is just fucking with me on some level. There’s a lot going on in here in terms of information and secrets with a friend of Doc’s feeding him info he’s getting from the first primitive form of the Internet.

    The spacey and affable Doc makes for a unique main character to guide us through a noirish but laid back landscape, but it was Bigfoot Bjornsen with his constant stream of anti-hippie comments that I found the most enjoyable. ‘Cause much like Bigfoot and Eric Cartman, I am also a hippie hater.

    I get why Pynchon is worshipped as such a post-modern master, but there’s just something about his style that isn’t engaging me at the gut level.


  5. Arthur Graham Arthur Graham says:

    No offense, but you have the look of a private gumshoe, or do I mean gumsandal.

    — Overheard directed at Larry Doc Sportello, PI, at a seedy Vegas casino

    On one level, Inherent Vice is a classic noir, featuring the standard litany of players and patsies in a kidnapping case gone awry. On another level, it's anything but your typical hardboiler, featuring a bumbling pothead detective in its leading role, supported by an equally unlikely cast of friends and foes in a caper with more subplots and sidetracks than actual story. On still another level, it probably really is Entertainment of a High Order, as TIME so prosaically proclaims, as if this were Pynchon's highest aim with this book — to entertain us. I don't know. Maybe like most writers, he's just a guy who likes the sound of his own voice, and somehow he's conned the rest of us into paying good money for the privilege of listening to him ramble.

    Lamenting the failed (?) experiment of the 1960s, much of the plot seems firmly couched in the ominous social and political implications circa the close of the decade. Crooked land developers, the LAPD, and organized crime outfits vie for control of the psychic/geographic landscape, surf music has begun to suffer from the same corporate zombification as other rock genres, and the advent of ARPAnet heralds the rise of depersonalized consumer culture, goodreads.com, and the omnipresent surveillance state. Inherent vice, indeed...

    I'm given to understand that this isn't Pynchon's finest work, but having only The Crying of Lot 49 to compare it to, it's tough for me to say. Personally, I'm of the opinion that if a writer can keep it up for half a century without their craft going all to shit, then there's really not much else we can ask of them as readers, even if their twilight offerings just aren't the same. I'm reminded of Robbins' Villa Incognito, or Bukowski's Pulp, both great books in their own ways, and both of them written quite late in their respective author's careers. Neither novel has been optioned for film rights yet, at least as far as I know, but maybe the upcoming film adaptation of Inherent Vice will help to elevate the book in comparison — could be even worse than Van Sant's Even Cowgirls Get the Blues, after all.

    But now I'm rambling almost as much as Pynchon does, or at least as much as I'm prone to do in my own books. Arthur out.


  6. Samadrita Samadrita says:

    So this is where the Pynchon magic lies ensconced - this flippant finger-pointing at various American idiosyncrasies with the self-assured omniscience of a master and a neat splicing together of snide references to pop culture mania and casually inserted observations on human foibles.

    A rather perfunctory reading of The Crying of Lot 49, a deceptively short novella with mind-bending intricacies, some time last year had elicited no reaction from me which was a rather alarming prospect. I had wondered whether Pynchon and I weren't meant to be. But I am glad that it's not the case.

    Reading Pynchon in a desperate hurry to touch some invisible metaphorical finish line will possibly result in all the snarky references slipping right through your grasp like sand in an hourglass. I can tell from experience.
    But read this without haste, taking time enough to glean all the fine humor laced with nearly every alternative conversation, this will become a pleasure read, a book capable of making most readers, what in traditional interwebz parlance called, 'laugh out loud'. Consulting Pynchonwiki every now and then will also help.

    Welcome to the drug-addled Los Angeles of Larry 'Doc' Sportello where the psychedelic 60s have ensured that sobriety is an aberration in the general populace and this in turn has ushered in an era dominated by corrupt DEA cops, stoned surfers, Charles Manson murders and long-haired hippies who wouldn't be able to tell the difference between day and night. Doc, a private hired 'eye' as per his own descriptions, plays detective to his ex-flame Shasta Fey's disappearing act and the 'murder' of her boyfriend Mickey Wolfmann and in turn walks the reader through one of the most bizarre, at times incomprehensible but enjoyable dope-induced daydreams ever - a labyrinth of typical Pynchonesque conspiracy theories, institutionalized racism, yakuza mob bosses, black dudes with fake Afros, attorneys named after thorny vines and a steadily growing list of references to obscure tv shows no one can keep track of. And whenever Doc is not on one of his pseudo-heroic and ultimately directionless quests or hallucinating time-travelling, out-of-body experiences, he is busy snorting/injecting/smoking cocaine, acid, cannabis, amphetamine, acapulco red/gold and a ton of other unidentified substances of varying fatality standards.

    To put this in more easily understandable terms, this felt like a cross between The Big Lebowski and The Big Sleep - a sort of middle ground between the crude, smartass-y tone of the former and the casually sophisticated banter of the latter.

    Do I love Pynchon now? - Not yet, since even the humor could not make up for the portions which dragged considerably. I can only attest to having successfully survived an initiation of sorts into Pynchonian themes.

    Hence, a rather conflicted 3.5 stars which could not be stretched to a 4. I guess I'll reserve a higher rating for one of his heavier and meatier tomes.


  7. Jessica Jessica says:

    The only good thing this book did for me was help me remember how profoundly grateful I am to have completely missed the sixties. I think I would've killed myself if I'd had to have witnessed all this psychedelic drug use and violence on aesthetics fisthand. Killed myself or become a cop or something.

    In addition to reminding me how much I hate the sixties, Inherent Vice caused me to suspect that I don't like Pynchon much either. I've always sort of felt like he's the literary equivalent of Black Sabbath, in that he tends to do more for dudes: sure, there are obviously girls out there who love both, but I think of Pynchon as dick lit, and while I can appreciate Sabbath I don't ever freak out about them the way a certain type of boy does.

    I didn't think this was well-written. Okay, I'll be honest: I felt like this was written by a precocious sophomore in college who might, with some effort, write a fun novel or sitcom pilot in a few years time, if he gets his shit together and practices a lot. Like, I didn't care for the language or the rhythm, and the jokes just weren't funny; to me it felt like watching a Cheech and Chong movie that's been over-edited for television. What's weird (this is an aside) is that I love stoner movies. I don't like getting stoned, and I don't watch many movies, but I love a surprising number of movies about getting stoned.... I don't know what or why that is, but anyway, what I learned from this book is that I don't like stoner novels, at least not ones by Mr. Thomas Pynchon, purported literary genius and appealingly mysterious hermit. Maybe I was so appalled because I love the detective genre this is a spoof of, or homage to, or whatever this was – I didn’t get very far. It was like seeing a sleek, gorgeous blonde in a 1940s suit run over by a repulsive dirty man with horrendously long hair driving a neon striped VW Bug…. Ugh. God. What were people thinking?

    You might be wondering – snippily, if you read and liked this book – why I tried to read it when it's clearly labeled as being a psychedelic romp or what have you, seeing as I hate the sixties so much. Well if you're wondering that, you clearly HAVEN'T SEEN THE COVER, which is the most spectacularly gorgeous and fabulous book jacket that I've seen in years, possibly in my life. I just couldn't resist it! When I saw it at the library, I ran over and actually started rubbing against it. Yeah, it was creepy. I’m sorry I did that. Lately I've been in a slump, and that's part of the reason: the books I've been picking at have got such lousy covers. Like one of the reasons I never want to pick up Middlmarch, even now that I've started to like it, is that my edition has the most vomitous cover I've ever seen in my life. It really makes me want to throw up in my mouth whenever I see it. It’s, like this paleish green with ugly leaves, the whole thing is so sick. It looks like the packaging for an off-brand scented candle that you’d see in the remaindered housewares section at Wholesale City Liquidators. I know it shouldn't matter -- we've all heard it before -- but it does matter to me. It does. A good cover feels good, it’s exciting, it is part of the allure. It's great to have that little thrill when you pull the book from your bag! Covers, like looks, are important to some of us, whether or not we would like them to be. They are.

    But sorry, Mr. Pynchon. They are not everything. Not that you care what I think, you've got armies of drooling fans who would probably love to see that I meet a Sharon Tate sort of end, based on my inane inability to recognize literary mastery. To which I say: get a haircut, young man, and lay off the dope!


  8. Will Byrnes Will Byrnes says:

    Don’t think great American novel. This is not Gravity’s Rainbow, but a bit of fun, of the noir variety. Doc Sportello is a hippy dippy PI in late 60’s LA. That his agency is named LSD Investigations pretty much tells you the tone here. Doc’s fondness for weed is matched by his ability to find things out. When an old flame show up at his door looking for help with a problem concerning her billionaire boyfriend and his wife’s attempt to have him declared incompetent the game is on. Throw in some biker-based security, a massive cop who likes to harass our PI, a series of interconnected clients, a few acid trips, a few dead bodies for color and texture. The book is alive with cultural references, and outrageous character names. Mickey Wolfmann, Doc Sportello, Bigfoot Bjornsen, Buddy Tubeside, Petunia Leeway, you get the idea. What was Pynchon smoking when he wrote this? Righteous stuff I expect. Great fun from an unexpected source. Enjoy the buzz.


  9. Algernon (Darth Anyan) Algernon (Darth Anyan) says:


    Who's afraid of those big fat postmodernist novels?
    Apparently me, because I have known about Thomas Pynchon for years, yet I kept putting him off, too shy about making my poor synapses work harder. Once I have taken the plunge (thanks to the recently released movie), it turns out I didn't need any extra fish oil in order to make sense of the story. More surprisingly yet, Inherent Vice is first of all a FUN ride through the psychedelic landscape of California, cca 1969. I don't remember the last time I laughed so hard at a hardboiled crime novel that covers kidnappings, drug smuggling, corruption, police brutality, gambling, prostitution, mass surveillance, gang and racial related violence, all of it garnished with a big helping of trivia related to surfing, flower power music, noir movies, alien landings and smoking of prohibited substances.

    The guide through this mandala shaped and polichromatic landscape is one down-on-his-luck gumshoe, known to his neighbors in Gordita Beach as 'Doc' Sportello. His horoscope is promising a bumpy ride ahead, even if Doc is way past his high-school age.

    According to Sortilege, these were perilous times, astronomically speaking for dopers - especially those of high-school age, who'd been born, most of them, under a ninety-degree aspect, the unluckiest angle possible, between Neptune, the dopers' planet, and Uranus, the planet of rude surprises.

    I don't want to spoil the plot too much, especially since the intricacies of the interwoven storylines are responsible for a good part of my enjoyment in the story, but what starts up as a straight-up classic PI case ( a hot dame is in trouble and appeals to Doc for help) will very soon develop in a long series of rude surprises:

    Congratulations, Hippie Scum! Bigfoot greeted Doc in his all-too-familiar 30-weight voice, and welcome to a world of inconvenience. Yes, this time it appears you have finally managed to stumble into something too real and deep to hallucinate your worthless hippie ass out of.

    Detective Lieutenant Bigfoot Bjornsen - LAPD, is not a fan of the slacker community that infests Gordita Beach with their ganja smoke and weird music, and he is only too happy to put pressure on Doc Sportello when the bodies start to pile up. With characters named Petunia Leeway, Fritz Drybeam, Zigzag Twong, Boris Spivey, Sortilege , Japonica, Sauncho Smilax or the band 'Spotted Dick' with their lead singer Assimetric Bob it was soon clear to me that I am no longer in Kansas or in any other 'straight' sort of neighborhood.

    This is Dr. Reality's office calling, you're way overdue for your checkup!

    ... and Doc Sportello is not your regular sort of private dick. He may have the sarcastic repartee polished down to perfection, and the world weary atitude of the hardboiled heroes of yester-year, but he is first and foremost a product of the Love Generation, an unrepentant doper who still rejects the values and the atitudes of the above mentioned 'straights'.

    And how was shooting up any different from the old folks and their dinner-hour cocktails anyway?

    and,
    What I lack in al-titude, Doc explained for the million or so-th time in his career, I make up for in at-titude.

    This atitude, more often than not, is than when the going gets tough, the tough lights another doobie. Which, I must admit, is one of the main reasons why I found the story so hilarious. Doc spends the whole novel in a 'fog of dope' state, alternating between utter confusion at the developing case and bouts of paranoia that may or may not be a by-product of the pot he smokes.

    We've always had this image of Donald Duck, we assume it's how he looks all the time in his normal life, but in fact he's always had to go in every day and shave his beak. The way I see figure, it has to be Daisy. You know, which means, what other grooming demands is that chick laying on him, right? rants Sauncho Smilax, his drinking and smoking buddy and impromptu defense lawyer.

    As a former hardcore gamer who spent months playing Warcraft, Age of Empires, Heroes of Might and Magic or Diablo, this 'fog of dope' bears a strong resemblance to the 'fog of war' used in RPG's and strategy games. Pynchon only dispells the haze in a tight circle around Doc, gradually revealing an expanding playfield, adding new characters and new locations for the hero to explore. It may feel like a random generated setting at first (borrowing heavily from Chandler, Hammett et Co.), but in the end I was amazed at how well all the separate subplots fitted together and how accurately this subjective, drug tinted landscape reflected the passing of an Age: from the psychedelic Sixties to the grungy, gritty Seventies.

    Out there, all around them to the last fringes of occupancy, were Toobfreex at play in the video universe, the tropic isle, the Long Branch Saloon, the Starship Enterprise, Hawaiian crime fantasies, cute kids in make-believe living rooms with invisible audiences to laugh at everything they did, baseball highlights, Vietnam footage, helicopter gunships and firefights, and midnight jokes, and talking celebrities, and a slave girl in a bottle, and Arnold the pig, and here was Doc, on the natch, caught in a low-level bummer he couldn't find a way out of, about how the Psychedelic Sixties, this little parenthesis of light, might close after all, and all be lost, taken back into darkness ... how a certain hand might reach terribly out of darkness and reclaim the time, easy as taking a joint from a doper and stubbing it out for good.

    I am not familiar with the particular style of Pynchon, this being the first novel of his that I try, but it seems to me that he is a true master of using the pop culture references not as a prop for comedic effect but as true mirrors of the psyche of a lost generation. The subject may be the early Seventies, with the key moment of transition identified as the day the love kids turned into monsters (Charles Manson), but the above quoted rant about consummerism and alienation applies just as well to Millenials today. Chandler saw the lone private detective as a sort of rundown Arthurian knight, walking down the mean streets of crime town, dispensing a rough kind of justice, guided only by his own inner moral compass. In mourning the passing of the hippies, Pynchon is also mourning the disappearance of this justiciary and of all that he used to stand for:

    Once there was all these great old PIs - Philip Marlowe, Sam Spade, the shamus of shamuses Johnny Staccato, always smarter and more profesional than the cops, always end up solvin the crime while the cops are followin wrong leads and gettin in the way. [...] Yeah, but nowadays it's all you see anymore is cops, the tube is saturated with fuckin cop shows, just being regular guys, only tryin to do their job, folks, no more threat to nobody's freedom than some dad in a sitcom. Right. Get the viewer population so cop-happy they're beggin to be run in. Good-bye Johnny Staccato, welcome and while you're at it please kick my door down, Steve McGarrett. Meantime out here in the real world most of us private flatfoots can't even make the rent.

    That's quite a sneaky move on the part of the author, one that justifies the cult status he enjoys and will make me try the rest of his novels: behind all the hijinks and the slapstick comedy (like the drug crazy Japonica driving through red lights at high speed, because they are the evil eyes of some devil entity), there is this hard core of social commentary that should make the reader re-organize his thoughts and his priorities in life:

    As long as American life was something to be escaped from, the cartel could always be sure of a bottomless pool of new customers.

    In a one-two punch conversation between Doc and Bigfoot, that horrible Manson event is offered as the key to the plot, the clash of generations and the death of a dream:

    Bigfoot: Odd, yes, herein the capital of eternal youth, endless summer and all, that fear should be running the town again as in days of old, like the Hollywood blacklist you don't remember and the Watts rioting you do - it spreads, like blood in a swimming pool, till it occupies all the volume of the day. And then maybe some playful soul shows up with a bucketful of piranhas, dumps them in the pool, and right away they can taste the blood. They swim around looking for what's bleeding, but they don't find anything, all of them getting more and more crazy, till the craziness reaches a point. Which is when they begin to feed on each other.
    -- -- --
    Doc: Well, what I've been noticing since Charlie Manson got popped is a lot less eye contact from the straight world. You folks all used to be like a crowd at the zoo - 'Oh, look, the male one is carrying the baby and the female one is paying for the groceries', sorta thing, but now it's like, 'Pretend they're not even there, 'cause maybe they'll mass murder our ass.'

    Sauncho Smilax, the lawyer who cannot watch a TV cartoon without stumbling over a conspiracy theory, is actually specialised in maritime law. He is tasked to explain to the reader the main metaphor from the title, the idea that there isn't any perfect form of social structure to be built out of fallible human bricks, the there is a fatal flaw in our very own nature (greed, fear, selfishness, envy) that will bring all utopian communities to ruin:

    - Is that like original sin? Doc wondered.
    - It's what you can't avoid, Sauncho said, stuff marine policies don't like to cover. Usually aplies to cargo - like eggs break - but sometimes it's also the vessel carrying it. Like why bilges have to be pumped out?
    - Like the San Andreas Fault, it occured to Doc. Rats living up in the palm trees.

    I don't want to end my review on such a depressing note. Doc Sportello solves a lot of the mysteries thrown at him, but the existential questions remain pending. Is this a reason to give up, to retreat back into that 'fog of dope' ? (view spoiler)[ Like other lone wolfs before him, Doc leaves the scene alone, driving through the very real Californian ocean mist instead of heading westward into the sunset, thoroughly disappointed in love and in his career prospects, yet stoically enduring, waiting For the fog to burn away, and for something else this time, somehow, to be there instead. . I hope he and the world can find a way to overcome the inherent vice. (hide spoiler)]


  10. David Katzman David Katzman says:

    Oh, Pynchon. How you disappoint me.

    This time, it's personal. (Cue the overblown Schwarzenegger theme song.)

    It's difficult to review Pynchon without coming to him with a lot of baggage. Like, after DFW, is there any other author so worshipped for straddling the line between mainstream narrative and experimentalism? Who has international average-Joe name recognition and major critic cred? You know, the ones at The New York Times not us proles. Does not Gravity's Rainbow carry the weight of...well, gravity? So I enter expecting certain things that may very well be hard to live up to.

    Here's what I expected when I picked this book up based on past experience and based on the back cover description: something experimental (not delivered) and something far-out and trippy (not delivered). I also expected it to be either realistic or way not realistic. Sadly for me, I found it to be neither.

    Experimental. What can I say, The Crying of Lot 49 was my first love in college. It was surreal and eerie. Probably the first novel I had ever read that was deeply (and intentionally) ambiguous. Even the crazy fantasy novels I read in high school--they might have been out there and trippy, but they didn't leave the reader with more questions than answers. TCoL49 requires the reader to take in the story actively not passively (if you want to get anything from it). It asks you to make your own assumptions and connections. For me, all Pynchon after it must live up to TCoL49. Inherent Vice is so mainstream it bled The Da Vinci Code. I just couldn't believe how straightforwardly narrative it was. Not even a hint of out-of-the-ordinary. I was outrageously let down.

    The Story. So it's not experimental. It's a straightforward narrative. A book may have to work a little harder to win me over, but I have enjoyed many straightforward narratives. It's not that I didn't give it a chance, but there were so many things that bothered me that I just couldn't enjoy it. First of all, the tone and style lived in a neverland between satire and realism. It never landed a solid foot in either camp. That just did not work for me. None of the characters felt deep enough to convince me they were real (and other than the main character, we don't meet any of them long enough to believe in them; they glance off the plot like pool balls). For example, the personality traits of the police officer named Bigfoot seemed like a grab bag of quirky lines, attitudes, and sixties critiques shaken up without coherence. Bigfoot's relationship with his wife was a joke rather than sincere. It felt like Pynchon trying too hard to make characters quirky and contradictory. On the other hand, Pynchon includes so many nods toward realism that I couldn't absorb the story as satire. Occasionally blatant moments of satire crept in that felt completely out of place against the majority of the scenes. For example, in chapter 8, Pynchon relates the summary of a soap opera being watched on TV. The summary is so far-fetched that it is obviously a satirical joke. A pretty lame joke.

    How about psychedelic? Hardly. Writing a book about stoners and druggies is not psychedelic. Writing a book that makes the reader feel stoned or trippy is psychedelic. Inherent Vice felt stone cold sober with the subject matter being stoners.

    I could see Inherent Vice being turned into a movie as I read it, clichéd movie that was trying to be about the sixties. And talk about clichés, the repeated gag where diverse characters express granular details of obscure actors and movies in casual conversation in order to represent L.A.'s obsession with movies? Which was paralleled by the way in casual conversation that so many people talked about sexual fetishes as if they were mundane? These techniques read like stereotypes. Almost bugged me as much as the use of music (especially over the car radio) again and again as a technique to capture that sixties vibe. I mean, could it be more obviously a writer's device? Most of the characters seemed like shallow simulacra of the sixties, artificial simulations. So I didn't care about them.

    The plot itself was rather ridiculous, which would lend itself toward Inherent Vice being a satire if Pynchon didn't seem to be working so hard to make his characters sound realistic. One technique that nodded toward naturalism was Pynchon having characters who used a sort of insidery lingo with each other. A kind of hipster quality of dialogue that skipped reader clarity (what exactly is going on here? why is there only dialogue with no scenic description?), because the characters would understand each other's meaning even though we don't. It smelled so blatantly like Pynchon cutting the fat that I can only say, his writing was showing.* And here's another gimmick that bothered me: the repeated use of question marks at the end of statements (which were not questions) in dialogue for multiple characters. It felt like a failed attempt at realistic dialogue that became a gimmick with overuse. The characters and their interactions all seemed contrived to me. Since they never jelled, everything felt like a setup (by the author). I was sludging my way through the plot just to see what twist came up next. I was not invested in Sportello, the main character, because he didn't seem real (nor the people who he was trying to save, since we hardly met them) so I didn't care about what twist came next. Perhaps I'm spoiled by the hilarious and brilliant Fan Man. At times, I felt like Sportello read as a poor man's Fan Man. Fan Man with a gun, which was oxymoronic enough to be irritating. Sportello also echoed The Dude in The Big Lebowski. Here's a trait of his that was remarkably unrealistic: getting a boner at the mention of an actresses name in the middle of casual conversation while undercover. Please. Is this realism? Satire? Funny? Just phony.

    The plot attempted to be a detective story as well, which I found to be kind of a drag. Since none of the characters mattered to me I really didn't care what was being investigated. Worst of all there was NO urgency! The main character just meandered from scene to scene with little drama except near the end when he actually had to use some physical violence to escape a situation. No urgency is bad for stories but even worse for a detective story. Where's the tension? I also fluctuated between finding holes in the plot and finding scenes designed to provide information that moved the story forward. I've also come to realize I generally dislike close third person narrative. It's not quite omniscient and not first person either, so who's it kidding?

    Here is a brief list of additional moments that bothered me:

    (view spoiler)[
    Near the beginning of Chapter 5 (Pg 56 in paperback) Sportello calls up Marv Wolfmann's wife on the phone and she says, ...Mr.—is it Sportello? even though in the previous portion of the conversation he had not mentioned his name.

    Marv Wolfmann's wife believing Sportello's cover story simply hands over her bank account number. Who does that? Plus, I immediately knew it was a plot device so that Sportello could do some investigation of the bank account to reveal some additional information. Detective Story 101.

    The phrase couple-three used twice.

    Beginning of chapter 7 when Sportello and his lawyer simultaneously realize an unspoken multi-layered metaphor. When does that happen?

    Having the lawyer obsessed with yachting and the Golden Fang boat—another contrived backstory to advance the plot.

    Bigfoot's philosophical rant in chapter 13 that seemed like an attempt to further summarize the sixties.

    Chapter 14, the limo coming to Sportello's rescue just in time. Deux ex machina is not welcome in realistic fiction.

    Why is Riggs, Marv Wolfmann's wife's lover, in Vegas? (Also chapter 14.) Because Pynchon needs a conversation to happen.

    The black guy big-dick joke.

    Toward the end, Sportello rushes to hide the heroin terrified that the cops will catch him. (He was set up after all). But then...after a while...he can't find a hiding place so he just takes it home and delivers it the next day to someone. Huh?

    (hide spoiler)]