Inherent Vice by Thomas Pynchon

inherent viceI am not a huge fan of Thomas Pynchon, but I have a friend who is quite devoted.  Prior to this book, I had only read Gravity’s Rainbow.  I enjoyed it quite a bit, but was not motivated to read other books by Pynchon.  However, earlier this year, my friend loaned me his copy of Inherent Vice, explaining that it was like Raymond Chandler on acid and I couldn’t resist giving it a try.  Later, reading the review from The New Yorker, which extensively quotes Raymond Chandler’s essay “The Simple Art of Murder”, I came to understand how much my friend’s explanation made sense.

Others may dwell on the plot, but I would prefer to allow readers walk into it a little blind, so that the book may be a treat. What impressed me the most was the style of writing.  This is a comedy–and for me it was a laugh-out-loud comedy.  In terms of style, I thought Inherent Vice more closely resembled what you would get if you attempted to take some Zap Comix and novelize them.  Yes, Doc Sportello is a private eye, but he is a gumshoe who is permanently stoned.  His adventures involve characters who appear to be permanently tripping.  The “serious” characters are actually full-blown cartoons.  When a house full of surfer band hangers-on turn into zombies and chase Doc and his friends in the Woody from Hell, you can’t tell if it is really happening or if Doc is just tripping, but it is a hilarious sequence.

The book captures the Southern California of the early 1970’s very accurately, populating it with a hilarious beach crowd, throwing in bimbos, policemen on steroids, surfers, lawyers, real estate developers and gonzo bums.  The book could have very easily been a collaboration with R. Crumb.

If you read this book and understand it as a comedy and I think that you will completely enjoy it.

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