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Inherent Vice Hardcover – August 4, 2009
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"Pynchon flashes the Sixties rock references faster than a Ten Years After guitar solo: His characters walk around wearing T-shirts from Pearls Before Swine, name-drop the Electric Prunes, turn up the Stones' 'Something Happened to Me Yesterday' on the radio. (I had never heard of Bonzo Dog Band's "Bang Bang" before, but it's on my iPod now.) The rock & roll fanboy love on every page is a feast for Pynchon obsessives, since we've always wondered what the man listens to….The songs are fragments in the elegiac tapestry for the Sixties, an era full of hippie slobs who just wanted to be left alone and so accidentally backed into heroic flights of revolutionary imagination. Can you dig it?" --Rob Sheffield, Rolling Stone
Amazon Exclusive: Thomas Pynchon's Soundtrack to Inherent Vice
Larry "Doc" Sportello is a private eye who sees the world through a sticky dope haze, animated by the music of an era whose hallmarks were peace, love, and revolution. As Doc's strange case grows stranger, his 60s soundtrack--ranging from surf pop and psychedelic rock to eerie instrumentals--picks up pace. Have a listen to some of the songs you'll hear in Inherent Vice—the playlist that follows is designed exclusively for Amazon.com, courtesy of Thomas Pynchon. (Links will take you to individual MP3 downloads, full albums, or artist pages.)
From Publishers Weekly
Starred Review. Pynchon sets his new novel in and around Gordita Beach, a mythical surfside paradise named for all the things his PI hero, Larry Doc Sportello, loves best: nonnutritious foods, healthy babies, curvaceous femme fatales. We're in early-'70s Southern California, so Gordita Beach inevitably suggests a kind of Fat City, too, ripe for the plundering of rapacious real estate combines and ideal for Pynchon's recurring tragicomedy of America as the perfect wave that got away. It all starts with Pynchon's least conspicuous intro ever: She came along the alley and up the back steps the way she always used to—she being Doc's old flame Shasta, fearful for her lately conscience-afflicted tycoon boyfriend, Mickey. There follow plots, subplots and counterplots till you could plotz. Behind each damsel cowers another, even more distressed. Pulling Mr. Big's strings is always a villain even bigger. More fertile still is Pynchon's unmatched gift for finding new metaphors to embody old obsessions. Get ready for glancing excursions into maritime law, the nascent Internet, obscure surf music and Locard's exchange principle (on loan from criminology), plus a side trip to the lost continent of Lemuria. But there's a blissful, sportive magnanimity, too, a forgiveness vouchsafed to pimps, vets, cops, narcs and even developers that feels new, or newly heartfelt. Blessed with a sympathetic hero, suspenseful momentum and an endlessly suggestive setting, the novel's bones need only a touch of the screenwriter's dark chiropractic arts to render perhaps American literature's most movie-mad genius, of all things, filmable. Inherent Vice deepens Pynchon's developing California cycle, following The Crying of Lot 49 and Vineland with a shaggy-dog epic of Eden mansionized and Mansonized beyond recognition—yet never quite beyond hope. Across five decades now, he's more or less alternated these West Coast chamber pieces with his more formidable symphonies (V; Gravity's Rainbow; Mason & Dixon; Against the Day). Partisans of the latter may find this one a tad slight. Fans of the former will know it for the throwaway masterwork it is: playful as a dolphin, plaintive as whale song, unsoundably profound as the blue Pacific. (Aug.)
Copyright © Reed Business Information, a division of Reed Elsevier Inc. All rights reserved.
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Pynchon uses the Private Investigator genre to explore the culture changes as the 1960s merged into the 1970s. This was when the Tate LaBianca murders by the Manson family rocked the peace, love, and trust ethos of the free love movement. Change was in the air: "...life in psychedeic-sixites L.A. offered more cautionary arguments than you could wave a joint at against too much trust, and the seventies were looking no more promising." [p 70]
Los Angeles in the 60s were all about drugs, sex, and rock and roll. Doc Sportello, Pynchon's protagonist, is a hip (hippie?) Private I, into all of the above as he investigates the disappearance of his ex girlfriend and her current boyfriend, a real estate mogul.
The further Doc gets into the investigation the more corruption he finds in law enforcement, politics and the establishment as they pushback against the love and drug culture. The establishment uses bullies and thugs to reestablish its power; Doc realizes "If everything in this dream of prerevolution was in fact doomed to end and the faithless money-driven world to reassert its control over all the lives it felt entitled to touch, fondle, and molest, it would be agents like these, dutiful and silent, out doing the s***work, who'd make it happen." [p 129]
I like the interplay between Doc and Bigfoot - his adversary/helpmate(?) in the police department. There is plenty of ambiguity and potential double crossing to keep the reader turning the pages. One section toward the end gets a little gory but thankfully it didn't go on too long.
Pynchon revels in the feeling of the time, channeling Hunter S Thompson: "On certain days, driving into Santa Monica was like having hallucinations without going to all the trouble of acquiring and then taking a particular drug, although some days, for sure, any drug was preferable to driving into Santa Monica." [p 50].
I'm not a big reader of the Private Investigator genre so I can't rate the novel on how well it adheres to those conventions. That being said, it seems to contain many of the common elements: a broke PI with a shabby office working the underground and collaborating with the police when necessary. I especially like look back at the 60s through the lens of the 21st century; it elevates the novel from a simple read and toss detective novel to a more nuanced piece of work.
Personally, I liked reading this take on L.A. in the 60s given that I was a high school kid looking into the city with awe and wonder from the Antelope Valley, just the other side of the San Gabriel mountains.
My biggest quibble is with the use of the beginning of the internet (Arpanet) that one of the characters uses to help Doc. It seems too much of deux ex machina to get information to move the story along.
The audiobook of Pynchon's "Inherent Vice" may be the best road trip aid yet devised. Maybe it's that highway driving is a sort of drug trip, and thus serves as a gateway into the mind of permanently stoned PI Doc Sportello. Maybe it's the way Ron McLarty's rough and ready voice navigates the range between Jade's massage parlor coos, Bigfoot Bjornson's V8 rumble, and several rousingly sung anthems of surf, cars and Vietnam. Or maybe it's that the covering of many hundreds of miles clues the listener in to Pynchon's essential road-ness: the comic names that go flashing by, the repetitions of cultural markers, like truck stops on the Interstate, the diverting conspiracies, never fully resolved, that branch like byways from the novel's neo-Noir blacktop heart. Whatever it is, this is a great way to lean back in your seat, reach out with your awareness, and let your cares drop away in the rear-view mirror.
Imagine a surfer-noir novel set in L.A. and environs in the spring of 1970 by Thomas Pynchon. Could anything be better? Answer: Inherent Vice is better! It's everything you could imagine, and then some. Every sentence is hugely entertaining, sort of the way Cormac McCarthy is entertaining, and also P.G. Wodehous. You just relish the diction. The plot is pure Chandler in its schematics: that is, characters are multiplied unnecessarily all for the dazzling color they give to the story; plot trots behind trying to keep up and just about succeeds in catching every character before they hit the ground. As in Chandler the characters who matter sort of only slowly emerge from the carnival, some very late: but that's the point of a carnival. Everyone matters to some gum-shoe or -sandal: we're concerned here with the ones that Marlowe or Doc are concerned with.
And Pynchon is so different from the writers I've lately been thinking about, writers who narrate the experience of narration. Reading Pynchon is a little like reading Shakespeare or Hammett: I'm just a wide-eyed reader again, not a person figuring out the experience of writing this book. I mean I am that sort of audience too for fun TV and Elmore Leonard and Neal Stephenson, for example. I like being just that. But for TV or Elmore Leonard I like because I can just enjoy the easy enjoyment of the thing. Whereas Pynchon requires -- no he doesn't require, he REWARDS -- the same kind of concentration I give Woolf or Geoff Dyer: a lot of concentration. But there's something wonderful about not concentrating on the experience of the book as an act of writing. You just concentrate for your own pleasure. And, man, he writes a good last line.
It's not that Pynchon as writer isn't an issue in the book. He is. But he's astonishingly good natured as a writer. What other real writers are? I can't think of any, not even Fielding.
Anyhow the first half of the book (when it's explaining something) repeats very occasionally -- sparsely even -- and very hauntingly two versions of the same phrase: "in those days"; "at that time." This plus a reference to Vineland as a place, plus one bracketed movie date at the end, are the only authorial self-references, the only sense that you have that an author is telling this to the reader instead of the voice coming off the page as part of the laid-back generosity of the narrative atmosphere. I love those phrases. They disappear from the second half, which is part of the very sadness the book's about: the end of an era, with Manson & Nixon (Doc must be called Doc partly as a descendent of Mason's, one of whose sons is called Doctor Isaac.)
Doc is slightly younger than Pynchon himself, pushing thirty in 1970, as we learn in a great, casually sad passage:
"Plastic trikes in the yards, people out watering the flowers and working on their cars, kids in the driveways shooting hoops, the high-frequency squeal of a TV sweep circuit through a screen door as Doc came up the path of the address he was looking for, to be followed by the more worldly sound, as he reached the front steps, of The Bugs Bunny/Road Runner Hour. According to Fritz, the sweep frequency was 15,750 cycles per second, and the instant Doc turned thirty, which would be any minute now, he would no longer be able to hear it. So this routine of American house approach had begun to hold for him a particular sadness." (P. 199)
Yes, I remember that routine. I thought TV's didn't do that anymore. But they do. Pynchon remembers this sound, which he can no longer hear, from forty-two years ago, when he reached the untrustworthy age of 30.
And yet the novel is entirely without self-pity, which might be why some of the smartest people I know don't like Doc much as a character: he's not made for pity: the book doesn't pity him either, it just lovingly recreates "those days," "that time" ("That time, O times!" as Cleopatra says) -- a time of endless betrayal as all times are for Pynchon, but a time when there were so many people to betray. The stoned hippie belief in innocence is ridiculous and yet something to cherish. Doc is cynical as all get-out, but still cherishes it, which means he's part of the innocence he's cynical about. He gets all this and still likes his world. You don't think people can really be like that? Pynchon is.