I know I'm a little late to the dance, but I'm finally reading
Pynchon's INHERENT VICE.
And this isn't a review. It's a sort of progress report.
Having said that, here goes.
It's competent enough, and the spirit of the times and place are
captured well, but so far there's been no trace of the genius, either
inherent or apparent, that I was expecting (or led to expect). A lot
of surprisingly dumb dope humour, plenty of slow-mo witticisms and
digressions, and a meandering plot that makes Crumley's mid-period
books seem driving and tight. And the characters are surprisingly
flat; self-consciously quirky without being particularly original --
although that doesn't stop the author from saddling most of them with
a back story, even if they're there simply as straight men (or women)
for a half-baked one-liner or two.
But the biggest problem may be not my unfamiliarity with Pynchon's
style, if that's what is is, but my familiarity with detective
fiction. If, as Fred has said, "Fiction should take you to places you
don't normally go" one of my main problems with INHERENT VICE is that
I'm being taken to places I've already been several times, and
Pynchon's not that great a tour guide.
The early seventies? Hippies versus the Man? Stoners, surfers, crooked
cops? SoCal? A detective not always quite as focussed as perhaps he
This is familiar territory most of us who are fans of the genre have
visited regularly over the years, in film, television and books.
I'm not saying Pynchon has no right going near the detective novel or
that he's condescending toward the genre (I don't think he is), as
some have suggested, but I wonder how much of his reputation helped
get this thing published? Would a newbie have been able to sell such
a fuzzy, vague book to a publisher, or would it have eventually been
published by iUniverse?
Were this by an unknown author, even some of the most rabid embers of
the Pynchon cult might have found this wanting. Pynchon may be a great
writer (no need to insult me if you disagree), but as a detective
fiction author, he's just okay.
At least so far. Maybe he'll get better. Maybe the ending will justify
the trip. It wouldn't be the first time a book has redeemed itself in
the last few pages for me.
I'll keep reading it. The reviews have been generally favourable, if
not flat out raves, and some people whose opinions I truly respect
seem to have liked it well enough. And, like THE DISASSEMBLED MAN,
there's an original voice in there that pokes through often enough to
make me want to continue, but at this point I'm not seeing what the
fuss is about. It's a big, wordy chunk of a P.I. novel, perhaps a
little more ambitious than most, but not as fully realized as others.
Anyone else have this sorta hmmmmm initial reaction to the book?
P.S. A possible anachronism: were there really protests on the LA
streets when STAR TREK was cancelled? Somehow it seems unlikely -- a
little revisionist wishful thinking. Group protests for cancelled TV
shows seem seems like a much more recent phenomenon; particularly for
a show that was cancelled for relatively dismal ratings. STAR TREK ,
as I understand it, never even achieved much of a cult until a few
years later, when scads of its original fans grew up and met in college.
Kevin Burton Smith
The Thrilling Detective Web Site
"Wasting your time on the web since 1998."
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