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Thomas Pynchon. Inherent Vice.

Thomas Pynchon. Inherent Vice. The Penguin Press, 2009. 384 pp. Cloth: $27.95.

Imagine a Raymond Chandler novel, but instead of gritty, black-and-white WWII-era Los Angeles, we have smoggy, over-developed LA in 1970, beset by racial tensions as well as conflict between the counterculture-types and squares, or flatlanders as they're called here, and instead of hard-boiled Philip Marlowe for our detective hero, we have hippie-stoner Doc Sportello. Such is the world of Thomas Pynchon's latest novel, Inherent Vice, half detective-story spoof, half bittersweet love letter to the sixties. Doc is approached by an ex-girlfriend to investigate the kidnapping of her current boyfriend, a housing developer who, after an epiphany, has decided to use his wealth to create housing for the poor. Doc's investigation, in Pynchonian fashion, leads to an international heroin cartel, the upper levels of a corrupt LAPD, the Vegas mob, the FBI, shady loan sharks, and the machinations of rival land developers, all of which may be connected, or not. A companion volume to Vineland (1990), Inherent Vice explores the operations of power and the possibilities of resisting it, the mindless pleasures and the loss of innocence of the counterculture, and the possibility that we all are inextricably implicated in the ideologies and practices we oppose. Surprising for Pynchon, the narrative focalization is consistently with Doc and the plot unfolds chronologically, with the occasional and frequently hilarious digression. Not surprisingly, the novel mines loads of humor from the eras surfers, musicians, bikers, spiritualists, druggies, as well as American pop culture, while treating with affection a confusing and exhilarating time that is now, sadly, lost to us. Inherent Vice is a more-than-welcome addition to the Pynchon oeuvre, a reminder of the promises and failures of a brief moment in our history when all the rules were void and all the boundaries erased, and another thrilling ride from our greatest writer.
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Author:McLaughlin, Robert L
Publication:The Review of Contemporary Fiction
Article Type:Book review
Date:Sep 22, 2009
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