“Inherent Vice” by Thomas Pynchon
Is Thomas Pynchon not cool anymore? Is literary relevance chronologically sensitive — meaning, certain things lose their importance depending on when they are published? Do interesting things become boring over time, or is the reading public simply fickle? I ask these questions because nobody seems that interested in Pynchon’s forthcoming (August 2009) Inherent Vice — kinda has a loopy-hippie Vineland feel to it. I must admit I fanned through his latest novel Against the Day like a telephone book with no one to call, sighed, and put it down; and Pynchon is one of my all time favorites.
William Vollman comes to mind, who shares (actually, eclipses) Pynchon’s unforgiving tomb-ish books with a noble kind of ‘fuck you I don’t care if you read this’ vibe. He too is someone I admire — but don’t read. Maybe they are asking for more than admiration, or even devotion. Maybe they aren’t even asking for anything, but simply want to be left alone and write. This brings us to an age old (tweaked) question: if a book falls and there’s no one around to hear it, does it make a sound? With the growing online cacophony, maybe lack of sound is not such a bad thing.
I dunno. Publisher Penguin’s synopsis reads like the male version of The Crying of Lot 49:
It’s been awhile since Doc Sportello has seen his ex-girlfriend. 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 L.A., 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 ex-con 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 dentists.
Mason & Dixon was barely read, Against the Day even less so. Pynchon’s paranoia of the 70’s was perhaps justified by the subsequent corrupt decades. We’re back at the 00’s now and it’s simply hard to be that suspicious when governments are so unabashed and explicit in their doings. Raymond Carver’s 80’s brought us back down to ‘reality,’ and we’re still all a little depressed. Bret Easton Ellis gave us drugs in the 90’s, but that didn’t help. At 384 pages, Inherent Vice is more ‘digestible,’ which is an operative word because, well, who’s hungry?