Unraveling the mystery of the reclusive ''Inherent Vice'' author

By Josh Rottenberg
Updated July 31, 2009 at 04:00 AM EDT

It’s safe to say Thomas Pynchon will not be doing a national tour to promote his new novel, Inherent Vice. He won’t sit on Oprah’s couch, won’t chat with Larry King, won’t sign books at your local Borders. Since rising to fame in the 1960s and early ’70s with the seminal postmodern novels V., The Crying of Lot 49, and Gravity’s Rainbow, Pynchon has remained essentially invisible. It’s worked pretty well for him. Why stop now?

Over the years, a host of myths about Pynchon have sprung up to fill the vacuum — fitting for an author whose work is filled with codes, conspiracies, and crackpots. In the 1990s, rumors circulated that he had written letters to a newspaper in a small Northern California town under the pseudonym ”Wanda Tinasky.” Some die-hard Pynchon-heads even speculated he was the Unabomber. He has rejected the notion that he’s a hermit. ”’Recluse’ is a code word generated by journalists…meaning ‘doesn’t like to talk to reporters,”’ he told CNN — off camera, of course — in 1997. Still, Pynchon has raised peekaboo to performance art. In 2004, he appeared as himself on The Simpsons, wearing a bag over his head.

At age 72, Pynchon likely leads a far more mundane life than his mystique suggests; a 1996 New York magazine article portrayed him living quietly in New York with his wife, the literary agent Melanie Jackson. In a recent interview, Salman Rushdie described a dinner he once had with Pynchon in terms that were suitably elusive: ”He was extremely Pynchonesque. He was the Pynchon I wanted him to be.”


The Catcher in the Rye author fell legendarily silent after 1965.

Though he publishes regularly, he’s guarded his private life.

The star cultivates mystique by living in a small French villa.

Keeps the public apprised of her physical-fitness ups and downs.

Likely staged 5 — 10 ”photo ops” while you were reading this.