Tonawanda News

September 22, 2013

BOOK NOOK: 'Inherent Vice' may whet appetite for new Pynchon offering

The Tonawanda News

Tonawanda News — Excitement is building fast for famed American author Thomas Pynchon’s newest novel, “Bleeding Edge.” 

With a release date just last week, a hot-button storyline revolving around the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks and conspiracy theories, and a prior catalog of internationally recognized works, it’s not hard to see why the hype for the novel is building.

At the same time, Pynchon’s last novel, “Inherent Vice,” is gaining traction too. Reports have indicated that Paul Thomas Anderson, director of “Boogie Nights,” “There Will Be Blood” and “The Master” has signed on for a film adaptation of the novel, and even has Pynchon’s blessing on the project.

Such a blessing is more rare then perhaps assumed. Pynchon is notorious for his enigmatic lifestyle, avoiding almost all media outlets, interview requests and book tours. He’s America’s latest J.D. Salinger, at least in his fame-evading approach to writing.

“Inherent Vice” was published four years ago, a mix-mash of genres throwing together the laid back vibes of California in the 1960s with the hardboiled detective pulp fiction widely popular at the same time. The story revolves around “Doc,” a private eye perhaps a bit too fond of his marijuana stash. 

“Vice” follows Doc around in his never-ending pot haze, as he struggles to pick apart a case brought to him by his ex-girlfriend. Doc seems to be always getting himself caught up in such small-fish cases that don’t end up paying, but when there’s a chance to see his high school cutie from what seems like a lifetime ago one last time, Doc bites.

“Inherent Vice” may not be a go-to novel for all mystery and detective fans, but those willing to experiment a bit with the hippie culture with which Pynchon nostalgically fills his novel should be entertained by the work’s originality in the crime/mystery field. 

While some reader’s minds may shoot to the mental labyrinths of Pynchon’s most famous works such as “Gravity’s Rainbow” — sometimes compared to James Joyce’s “Ulysses” in incomprehensibility — note that in the initial New York Times review of the book, “Inherent Vice” was cited as “Pynchon-lite,” noting its “mainstream appeal.” Many go as far as to call it a beach read.

While the topics presented in “Vice” may not really be beach-worthy, Pynchon’s work certainly is not as dramatic or suspenseful as what he has done in the past. Even the paranoia and conspiracies threaded throughout – a staple of Pynchon’s style – can simply be written off to Doc being heavily under the influence of pot. While this more light-hearted approach may have some readers missing the denser Pynchon of old, there’s no doubt “Vice” offers much more in terms of immediate comprehension and enjoyment. 

That’s not to say the novel is all sunshine and rainbows. Taking place right after the Charles Manson murders, a dark backdrop of the end of the hippie era surrounds “Inherent Vice.” While many people Doc meets appreciate his laid-back style, just as many have grown tired of his kind, and have no problem voicing their opinions. Some even get violent. Take, for example, Doc’s longtime partner and now LAPD nemesis, Detective Christian “Bigfoot” Bjornsen, who has no problem knocking Doc out cold when he starts to stick his nose in where it doesn’t belong. 

Half hardboiled crime, half “Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas,” “Inherent Vice” may be too light-hearted and funny for some of Pynchon’s biggest fans. Those who feel Pynchon’s work has always been about the absurdity and uncertainty of our lives, however, will find that “Inherent Vice” fits in just fine among the author’s past works.

Dean Goranites publishes weekly video book reviews at, and can be reached through Twitter at unleash_this.

• WHAT: "Inherent Vice" • BY: Thomas Pynchon • Publisher: Penguin Books • GRADE: C+