Inherent Vice

The name ”Thomas Pynchon” usually evokes thoughts of a reclusive genius who every few years blesses M.F.A. hipsters and Mensa applicants with intricately layered postmodern behemoths. So it might be a shock to learn that his latest book, Inherent Vice, is, at a mere 369 pages, a relatively breezy work of genre fiction. Upon further consideration, though, it’s a wonder this didn’t happen sooner: What better vehicle for Pynchon’s favorite subjects (conspiracy, radical politics, trash culture) than a detective novel set in post-Manson Los Angeles? In the dependable tradition of Raymond Chandler, things get under way when a missing-persons case turns into a web of intrigue. Our burnout hero, private dick Doc Sportello, agrees to find the new lover of his ex-girlfriend Shasta and soon gets mixed up with Thai hookers, a motorcycle gang, a surf-rock saxophonist, and a narcotics dealer named El Drano. (For Pynchon trainspotters, there’s also an appearance by one of the Corvairs, the rock band from 1990’s Vineland.) Thwarted at every turn and garnering respect from no one, Sportello somewhat resembles Elliott Gould’s wiseacre Philip Marlowe from the 1973 Robert Altman film The Long Goodbye, which also populated its L.A. with hash-brownie casualties and New Age quacks. But he’s even closer to The Big Lebowski‘s Dude, a charmingly drippy screwup fighting through a stoned haze to fathom the labyrinths of criminal machinations. ”Gahhh!” cries a joint-smoking Sportello while trying to connect the dots between a heroin-smuggling ring, the CIA, and a schooner called the Golden Fang. ”I am, like, overthinking myself into brainfreeze, here.” Readers are advised to avoid such mind-fryings — as with Chandler’s infamously impossible-to-follow plots, sleuthing the case is hardly the point of Inherent Vice. Savor it instead for Pynchonian linguistic flights and slapstick set pieces. But the nicest surprise of all is the heart-on-sleeve wistfulness that finally peeks through the comic riffing, in the descriptions of Sportello’s undying love for Shasta and an elegiac appreciation of the era. Coming from the man who once railed ”there is nothing so loathsome as a sentimental surrealist,” this qualifies as a revolutionary shift. The new Pynchon: a beach read and a heartstring puller. It’s almost surreal. A

Inherent Vice
  • Movie
  • 148 minutes