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.

Go Ask Alice by Beatrice Sparks

Originally published in 1971 as a scare book for teenagers, Go Ask Alice was pushed on the public as a real diary of a troubled teenage girl sometime between 1968 and 1971, the author listed as “Anonymous.”  The book is the “Reefer Madness” of literature, not only because of the gross exaggerations concerning various drugs, but because the character of the teenage girl rings about as false as a character possibly can.go-ask-alice

The failures of this novel are so deep and profound, it’s hard to tell where to begin.  Many plot points are dropped in for no other purpose than to shock the audience and with total disregard for reality.  I know of only one person in my life who got stoned on pot and had visions and that person was a certifiable psychotic.  That this girl has one hit and goes off the deep end is truly outside the scope of reality.  She seems just completely ditzy, one minute all “Daddy, I love you” and the next minute all “Fuck everything I want to kill myself.”

This leads to situations where one minute she’s completely committed to being clean and then she has one speed tab and goes on a bender where she runs away from home and lives on the streets for months.  What?

There are a few pages in the book that ring true, but any parent who gave this book to their kid as a way to try to steer them clear of drugs has been misled by literature.  It will provoke laughter because it is so unbelievable.

Maybe the most disappointing thing about the book is that as the diary draws to a close, we see this girl finally getting her life together. She has a boyfriend, girlfriends, good grades, and great prospects for the future.  The diary ends on a very positive note.  Then, suddenly, the author comes on board with an Epilogue that tells us, “The subject of this book died three weeks after her decision not to keep another diary.” 


HOW?  “Her parents came home from a movie and found her dead.  They called the police and the hospital, but there was nothing anyone could do.”  This makes no sense at all.  It just comes out of the blue and there is no motivation, no build-up, nothing.

WHY?  “Was it an accidental overdose?  A premeditated overdose?  No one knows, and in some ways that question isn’t important.”  WHYEVER NOT???  “What must be of concern is that she died, and that she was only one of thousands of drug deaths that year.”  This makes no sense at all and it is a complete evasion of the most important question in any book.  Why?

What a letdown.  Can’t you at least tell me how a girl who was clean and straight and completely dedicated to the beautiful new life ahead of her does something like that?  It’s insane.

Kids—don’t  ever write like this!  Maybe the book—now considered a classic of Young Adult literature—should be brought up in English class as an example of how NOT to write Young Adult literature.