Inherent Vice by Thomas Pynchon- Review

He’s not my favorite writer but if anyone wanted to make a case for Thomas Pynchon as the greatest living American author, I think I would have a hard time coming up with a counter argument. Over the course of his career he has so seemlessly slipped across the boundaries of genres and woven together such disparate tales that have kept academics on their tenure paths straight up until they have gained job security that the man is nearly unassailable. And I have enjoyed the majority of his books. And of the books I haven’t enjoyed, I have had to admit at the mastery of his craft. This is why Inherent Vice is a bit of an odd duck to me.

It’s a thoroughly enjoyable and quick read. You fly across the pages and quickly find yourself flipping the back cover shut. From Pynchon’s works, only The Crying of Lot 49 can be said to be a quicker and more simply enjoyable read. But there is a vital difference between Vice and Lot 49. With Lot 49 there same mastery evident in V., Gravity’s Rainbow and Vineland is still plainly evident. Lot 49 might be far shorter than any of them but it was still obscenely skillfully done.

Inherent Vice just isn’t as tight as Pynchon’s other works. Some cracks show. It’s pacing falls off at times, it’s turns occasionally come up as possibly the long way around instead of the right path. It’s Pynchon as an every day novelist rather than the freak of nature his other works held him up to be.

And this isn’t a bad thing. It’s actually a quite enjoyable thing. not because I am saying tht Pynchon’s finally fallen from his throne but because without some of the polish his work has a different livelier feel to it.

The one review for Vice that has stuck in my head has been the review by Rolling Stone that essentially made it out to be something like Big Lebowski Nights where Dude and Walter team up to solve a mystery. Except there really isn’t a Walter in Vice unless you count a stoned, incompetant friend as the walter stand-in. Larry Sportello, the lead character and supposed Dude stand-in, does do some very Dude things but also some very un-dude things. And the world of Inherent Vice is roughly the same world as the southern california in the Coen Brothers’s cult hit. But the tone is different. Larry Sportello is not the dude and seeems to have come to some stoner wisdom that is down a forking path from the stoner wisdom the Dude lived by.

Larry is a private eye that has taken on a handful of cases at once that, in the end, more or less converge. I say more or less because it does lack the typical Pynchonic flair of bringing everything together at the end in a seriously breathtaking bow. It just sort of loosely jumbles together into a pile that feels pretty well resolved

Again, this isn’t a bad thing. pynchon makes it work and work enjoyablly well. The read is fantastic and is still probably one of the best books to come out this year. Maybe it’s his own fault for simply setting the bar too high with his past works that it has become nearly impossible for him to exceed the expectations lofted upon him.


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One Response to “Inherent Vice by Thomas Pynchon- Review”

  1. Somnopolis Says:

    I almost found it to be Pynchon going mano a mano with the Coens for the title of 21c whimsical genius.

    Arguably Doc is slightly more with it than the befuddled Dude, but in the end there’s a hair’s difference between them. Pynchon is braver I think for setting the story during the sixties though and not allowing the defeat of its optimism to be some sort of inevitable result. He’s pointing out that there was an opportunity for change there that wasn’t seized, much like Against the Day used the opposition between Big Energy and Tesla.

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