60s (and early-70s) nostalgia ain’t what it used to be. I read Thomas Pynchon’s Inherent Vice, but I went away thoroughly disappointed. The novel isn’t terrible, but reading it was still a waste of time. I can’t give it more than 4 out of 10.
Bohemian Private Eye
Inherent Vice concerns an almost-thirty year-old bohemian p.i. named Doc Sportello who lives near the beach. The plot involves scheming land developers, corrupt cops, and lots of hippies. Though Pynchon does a nice job of re-creating the atmosphere of early-1970s Southern California, he makes the reader work far too hard when trying to follow his Byzantine plot and over-large cast of characters
Pynchon lets the characters get into long, dope-addled conversations that do nothing for the reader. It’s like being stuck in a van with Cheech and Chong for hours on end. But the worst flaw is that you just don’t care what happens to these people.
Generally, I review only books that I like because I seldom finish the duds. I seriously considered quitting Inherent Vice after falling asleep on my sofa while trying to read it Friday night. But I persevered. And, to be fair, the book got somewhat better after I resumed reading it.
Nice Atmosphere, Tangled Plot
Inherent Vice reminds me of William Kotzwinkle’s novel The Fan Man. Both are “hippie” books that create nice atmosphere, but both lack plots that engage the reader. So much has been written about the late 60s – early 70s, that the bar is pretty high for any new contributions on the subject.
Pynchon fails when he tries to inject more serious notes into the book. The shifts of tone from light to heavy discombobulate the reader. Even worse, Pynchon falls back on the tired us-versus-them, the-bourgeoisie-is awful notes that have been mined to death. Here’s a typical passage in which Pynchon unsubtly suggests that the real criminals are not the hippies, but Joe and Jane Average Citizen –
Yawn – I’ve heard it all before.
Couldn’t Give It Up
So, I slouched to the book’s finish line – but I probably should have quit. Reading Inherent Vice was sort of like dating someone you’re not crazy about – not bad enough to leave, but not anything to get excited over, either.