Saturday, August 29, 2009

Inherent Vice

Thomas Pynchon

This new novel by the author of Gravity's Rainbow and V is written in the style of a hard boiled detective novel. It is also classic Pynchon. The story is set in Los Angeles in 1969 with a central character who is a pot smoking disillusioned hippie turned private invvesigator, a veteran of the early 60's surfer scene, named Doc Sportello. Sportello's bete noire is L.A. Police detective Bigfood Bjornson, an aggressive, rule bending, Dirty Harry like figure who turns out to be a henpecked husband with a sentimental streak.

Pynchon's ever present themes of paranoia, conspiracy and corruption are to be found in Inherent Vice. As in his earlier novels there is a secret society, this time called "Golden Fang," which is introduced as the name of a schooner which slips in and out of the harbor at night on mysterious errands, but is also an investment group run by dentists, a drug cartel, the owner of a run down casino in the wrong part of Las Vegas, a real estate development company, a right wing political group and a rehab clinic.

Sportello wanders in a marijuana induced haze, through the streets of Los Angeles searching for clues into the disappearance of developer Mickey Wolfmann. He is given bits and pieces of information by a wide variety of characters, heroin addicts, surfers, the saxophone player in a psychedelic surf band working undercover as a police informant and political provocateur, a former teenage runaway and her dentist/lover. Each revelation makes the plot more convoluted but seems to lead toward a hoped for but never revealed resolution. Doc Sportello is as clueless at the end of the book as he was at the beginning. There is never a denouement where Sortello reveals his clever solution to the crime. He does get paid, though, by the conspirators themselves but in a plausibly deniable way.

Although Pynchon uses themes from film noir and the novels of Raymond Chandler and Dashiell Hammett and makes references to John Garfield movies, this is not a mystery novel in the classic sense. It is a rambling, paranoiac Thomas Pynchon novel. As in all of Pynchon's work, the confusion and sense of pointlessness you are left with are the whole point of the book.

Thomas Pynchon has made somewhat of an enigma of himself. He does not allow himself to be photographed and keeps his whereabouts a secret, as though he were one of the characters in his novels. Rumor has it that Pynchon is up for a Nobel Prize in literature. All he needs to do is reveal himself as a female writer from a third world country and he's in like Flynn.


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