Book Review: ‘Inherent Vice’ by Thomas Pynchon

inherent vice thomas pynchon

Better Luck This Time:

My first encounter with Thomas Pynchon did not end so well. It was with a copy of the chunk, intimidating Against the Day. I quit before I reached the 100-page mark. I saw glimpses of what the work could be like, but I didn’t have the patience at the time. Especially when there were other books on my shelf that offered more condensed stories. Hell, I even read Brothers Karamazov instead of finishing Pynchon’s behemoth.

The second time around, I decided to ease myself in. I picked up Inherent Vice, a hazy neon-lit story set in 1970s Los Angeles. The momentum of the hippie generation was simmering down, and in its place was a world of daytime TV, sandy tacos by the pier, and countless joints. Having lived near Los Angeles for a good portion of my life, I was interested to compare it to modern day LA. See what still stood, what tides had turned, and how much more potent the marijuana had become.

A Dreamy, Smoky Ride:

Considered part of the line up of postmodern writes to emerge in the second half of the 20th century, Pynchon lives up to the label. The story is vague, questionable, and feels like you never really know where you are, despite the crisp descriptions of orange smog, smoky velvet interiors, and the constant hum of a jukebox in the background. We follow Doc around, a guy who doesn’t know where he’s going himself, carried along by a ambiguous drive that seems to get him into all sorts of situations.

I did enjoy it though. Mostly. It gets weird at points, where, in true postmodern fashion, some of the general assumptions about the world of the narrative are tossed out. Or are they? Is it just drug-addled perception? There is more than a touch of the surreal, in a vein like Hunter S. Thompson’s, albeit with a language that shows a degree more restraint and discipline. Reading Thompson is like having a gallon of madness poured dumped over your head, Gatorade Super Bowl style. Pynchon is more like being handed measured slices of it here and there, reminders that what you think of as clear might not truly be so.

Despite the ambivalence of my current position on postmodernism and novels of the late 20th century in general, I had fun with this read, and was left with a craving for a nighttime drive down the Pacific Coast Highway.

Rating: 4 out of 5