Thomas Pynchon, when he does decide to pubish something, seems to operate in two modes: in one, he writes heavy, sprawling, paranoid and disturbing yet highly enjoyable and enlightening books, and in the other, he writes loose, light, occasionally disturbing books that are highly enjoyable and enlightening. The Crying of Lot 49 is a mixture of both–it’s a tiny book that contains volumes. Inherent Vice is his lightest yet, but with lightness comes levity and with levity bliss.
The arrival of this book back in 2009 was a pleasant surprise. I honestly hadn’t expected a book so quickly from Pynchon. I figured he’d be burnt out and frazzled after publishing his giant book Against the Day in 2007. I mean, Pynchon did wait fourteen years to publish Vineland after Gravity’s Rainbow. My original theory as to the quick publication of the book was that Pynchon was reacting to the negative press surrounding Against the Day, and decided to write a funny, slim book for people who read him more for his humor than his world building. Although, I’m not sure how well this theory holds up: Does Pynchon really care what the critics think? It’s possible too that Pynchon wrote it to give his friends a laugh, but as it so happens, we’re lucky enough to be his friends (his writing’s so much more affable these days).
I read Inherent Vice the week it came out and haven’t gotten around to re-reading it yet, so my memory of the plot is a bit sketchy, but then, his plots always leave me with that sensation. Basically, this wavy-gravy kind of guy who lives along the coast of California in the 60s somehow gets embroiled in a mystery, and, during his sleuthing, takes a lot of drugs and talks to a lot of hipsters and hippies. Unlike Pynchon’s heavy work, there’s not a ton of subplots nor does it turn into a nightmarish “bad trip.” From what I do remember, I laughed at something probably every other page.
In a lot of ways, Inherent Vice resembles some books by authors that Pynchon helped inspire. Fans of Tom Robbins will probably enjoy this book. The famous New York Times critic Michio Kakutani called Inherent Vice “Thomas Pynchon-Lite” which is funny because I have heard Philip K. Dick be called a laymen’s Pynchon. So I guess that means that Thomas Pynchon diet or 2% or lo-cal is still good. Anyways, check out Inherent Vice. At the very least, it’s good for a laugh.