Inherent Vice

by Thomas Pynchon

Pynchon is another author I’ve been meaning to read for a long time now. Though I probably should have asked around before picking up the only novel of his I recognized by title, that “Alex luck” I seem accustomed to caused that same book to be what is widely considered one of his more accessible works, which probably isn’t a bad starting point. (I’m talking about Inherent Vice here, in case you were wondering.)

Inherent Vice follows Doc Sportello, basically a caricature of what springs to mind when I say “pot-smoking hippie from the late ’60s,” except that he’s also a private investigator. The story is the typical tangled web of interconnected cases that I’ve come to expect from detective fiction, with Doc getting in the middle of murders, kidnappings, and drug-smuggling rings, except Pynchon breathes a lot of humour into his book, ending up with something a bit closer to The Big Lebowski than Chinatown.

My biggest difficulty when working my way through Inherent Vice was trying to keep my head around the winding plot and the copious characters, with people who only warranted a minor mention earlier on coming back in significant ways later. (There were at least a few cases where I had to flip backward to double check who we were talking about.) The story also sobered up quite a bit as we went along; while this brought with it some great passages and gritty violence, I preferred the lighter side of Pynchon’s story, like Doc’s lawyer telling him about a Donald Duck cartoon rather than taking down the information to bail him out of jail, or Doc and his buddy staring at a bag of smack, thinking it’s some sort of futuristic television. (Trust me, these moments are funny in the context of the story. Interestingly, both of these scenes didn’t make the cut into the film adaptation, which excised most of the humour to instead tell a story that made no sense.)

So, I liked Inherent Vice a fair bit, but I think I’m going to have to try tackling one of Pynchon’s more difficult works, like Gravity’s Rainbow, to help me understand the admiration he’s attained.