Thomas Pynchon’s career has covered half a century. His backlist is a primer to the postmodern novel in America: Gravity’s Rainbow, V., The Crying of Lot 49, Mason & Dixon, and Against the Day ( Selection Jan/Feb 2007). Inherent Vice is the author’s first crime fiction and his most accessible novel to date.
The Story: In the dying, hazy days of Southern California in the late 1960s, Larry "Doc" Sportello, an inveterate stoner, works as a private detective out of LSD Investigations (not what you think: "Locations, Surveillance, Detection"). His specialty is "skip-tracing," tracking debtors on the run. But when Shasta Fay, an ex-girlfriend, asks him to look into a conspiracy to kidnap her millionaire boyfriend, Doc is spun into a web that includes drugs, counterfeiting, quirky characters too numerous to count, the mysterious "Golden Fang" cartel—and murder. As much as Inherent Vice is a crime novel, it is also an historical artifact, connecting past and present and replaying the nostalgic soundtrack of the baby boomers’ lives.
Penguin. 384 pages. $27.95. ISBN: 9781594202247
"We are only a little way into a plot best thought of as a state-of-the-art bomb that detonates, releasing dozens of bomblets that explode in turn to pierce the targets with thousands of tiny metal fragments. … [Pynchon] writes with a rich mastery of the era’s detail: rock groups now forgotten, odd hangouts (a Japanese greasy spoon that offers the best Swedish pancakes in Los Angeles), surfing, motorcycle brands, and the generosity of forbearance among the ‘60s generation." Richard Eder
Cleveland Plain Dealer
"I found myself laughing, reading parts of it aloud to whoever was around and then heading for the backyard hammock to better enjoy this (comparatively) easy summer read. … Much is funny enough to make you laugh out loud, especially if you’re a boomer who remembers certain TV shows, surf music and the skin-crawling creepiness of Richard Nixon." Nancy Connors
San Francisco Chronicle
"After reading the opening paragraph, I found myself charmed and pleased with the way Pynchon meets the genre square and fair, on its own terms, and makes it his own. My second thought was about how much I enjoyed the rhythm and music of the sentences, and how much I wanted to read—read ‘sing’—along with them." Alan Cheuse
"Inherent Vice may not be the Great American Novel, but it’s certainly a Great American Read—a terrific pastiche of California noir, wonderfully amusing throughout (and hard to quote from in a family newspaper because of the frequent use of, uh, colorful spoken language) and a poignant evocation of the last flowering of the ‘60s, just before everything changed and passed into myth or memory." Michael Dirda
"Pynchon is a satirist at heart, a literary cartoonist as much as anything (think of R. Crumb or Ralph Steadman), and his reputation as a ‘difficult’ writer is nowhere evidenced in Inherent Vice. … Pynchon’s prose in this novel is relatively loose, a contrast with the tightly modulated language characteristic of so much contemporary writing." Art Winslow
"Inherent Vice doesn’t take on the big themes tackled by works like Gravity’s Rainbow or Against the Day. Nevertheless, the dark fog that hovers over the author’s comical mystery (musings about the end of national innocence) as well as the wordplay so relentlessly present in any of his books, keep Pynchon’s Inherent Vice from being just another thriller—and ensure it is never less than entertaining." Dorman T. Shindler
Christian Science Monitor
"I quarreled with Inherent Vice, the latest novel from the reclusive Thomas Pynchon. I liked its wit, style, and grasp of locale, but deplored its cavalier way with plot." Carlo Wolff
New York Times
"Thomas Pynchon’s Inherent Vice is a big, clunky time machine of a novel that transports us back to the early 1970s, back to a California of surfers and surf bunnies, bikers and biker chicks, hippies, freaks and righteous potheads. … Though Inherent Vice is a much more cohesive performance than the author’s last novel, the bloated and pretentious Against the Day, it feels more like a Classic Comics version of a Pynchon novel than like the thing itself." Michiko Kakutani
Pity the book editor charged with assigning Thomas Pynchon’s latest novel, writes the Cleveland Plain Dealer, since "[i]t’s enough to drive a reviewer to ingest assorted substances then flip on the Cartoon Network." Pynchon, the incorrigible recluse whose name has become synonymous with difficult fiction, doesn’t disappoint most critics, though many call Inherent Vice "Pynchon Lite" (New York Times). Indeed, it is a (mostly welcome) departure from the author’s notoriously byzantine novels—Gravity’s Rainbow is infamous in graduate literature seminars for being assigned but never read—though a few reviewers mourned the more accessible feel. Pynchon certainly has the chops to carry a crime novel, here set against the lovingly rendered details of counterculture Southern California. To say that Inherent Vice is weird and engaging and hypernostalgic and imperfect is to define Pynchon’s legacy to the American novel.