Monday, November 02, 2009
BooksFirst - October 2009
Inherent Vice by Thomas Pynchon
Thomas Pynchon is one of the great enigmatic writers of the modern era. While I made it through V many years ago, Gravity's Rainbow has always been too much to complete. His more recent work like Mason and Dixon have been even less accessible. When I heard that his latest novel, Inherent Vice (some sort of legal pun) was a straight forward mystery, I was all for it.
It's a mystery, but not a straight forward one. Set in 1970, it reads like The Big Sleep meets The Big Lebowski. Doc Sportello is a stoner private eye used to small fry domestic investigations who gets caught up in something bigger than him. Exactly what, I'm not sure. I've never been very good at following normal mysteries let alone ones involving vigilante cops, hallucinogenic dentists, and zombie surf rockers.
Nothing in a Pynchon book is exactly what it appears to be and there are multiple layers of symbols, motifs, and themes. Some of them include the Manson murders, a omnipresently named smuggling ring, and Nixonian currency. And then there is the dope. The entire book is shrouded in a hashish haze, taking the concept of unreliable narrator to new highs, so to speak. If you turned the book into a drinking game by taking a shot whenever somebody lights a doobie, you'd be on your third liver by the end of the book.
It's not many books that merit their own concordance or are promoted by a YouTube promotional video. But it is a deceptively breezy read that will leave you pondering long after you close the covers.
In the pantheon of Pynchon novels, Inherent Vice is not going to be judged a masterwork, but it is definitely intriguing. Scenes and incidents recur and echo. Characters turn out to be not what they seem to be. And somehow it all wraps together to be something more than a mystery. And that is part of the mystery.