Wednesday, November 25, 2009

Thomas Pynchon, Inherent Vice

This novel is pure, unadulterated fun! Guilty pleasure fun!

Set along the beachfronts of Los Angeles in 1969-70, our author gives us yet another Pynchonesque schlemiel, Larry "Doc" Sportello, a sandel-wearing private investigator cut from the familiar cloth of Tyrone Slothrop (Gravity's Rainbow), Oedipa Maas (The Crying of Lot 49), and Zoyd Wheeler (Vineland). Doc is confronted by old flame Shasta Fey Hepworth, who hires him to find her new lover, Mickey Wolfmann, who has recently disappeared. The ensuing investigation, which is a fun send-up of the traditional noir plot, sends Doc on a complex investigation that involves everything from Vegas lounges to port schooners to an underground organization (or is it?) called the Golden Fang. With its femme fatale, network of seedy minor characters, and seemingly endless smoking (tho what Doc smokes is a bit more ... um ... pungent), Pynchon channels Dashiell Hammett and Raymond Chandler brilliantly in this homage to all things noir!

And for Pynchon fans, all the usual images and motifs and themes are there: the wacky song lyrics; the silly names; the really, really bad puns and doper humor; green and magenta; lightbulbs; mayonnaise; photography and film; paranoia -- it's all there! This is a veritable treasure trove for fans of The Man's works. A-and what struck me most was how long it's taken an author, whose fiction typically centers around the investigation of a mystery wherein the investigation becomes more and more complex, to finally come around to writing a work of noir fiction!

Maybe that's what makes the book "work" so well ... Pynchon (and his characters) were made for noir fiction!


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