INHERENT VICE by Thomas Pynchon (Penguin Press, 2009)

Thomas Pynchon’s Inherent Vice is a countercultural spoof of the hard-boiled Chandleresque crime genre full of shaggy dog tales of private dick and dope fiend Larry ‘Doc’ Sportello on the trail of kidnapping related murders and other related misdemeanours.

Red herrings and false trails abound and I quickly tired of trying to find any twisted logic to proceedings.

This trippy novel is no ringing endorsement of drug use but large parts of it seem to have been written while under the influence of some substance or other.

As well as a pervasive air of cynicism, a shadow that looms over the fictional events is the savage real-life murders committed by the deranged Charles Manson cult in 1969. These killings were the ultimate flip side to the peace and love vibe endorsed by hippies and a clear sign that there’s a dark subtext beneath the superficial fun and froth the author revels in.

This book is best read at , or on,  speed, scanning the text for quotable lines and sharp characterisations.  Here’s a sample of those I liked:

  • “Back when, she could go weeks without anything less than a pout. Now she was laying some heavy combination of face ingredients on him that he couldn’t read at all”.
  • “Hair and drug-use issues notwithstanding, I’ve never thought of you as any less than professional”.
  • “Customers at tables leaned toward each other and then away, like plants underwater”.
  • “Doc immersed in Rhua’s glare like an old car radiator in an acid bath”.
  • “Too much makeup, hair styled by somebody who was trying to give up smoking, a mini-dress she had no more idea how to carry than a starlet did a Victorian gown”.
  • “He came around a corner too fast and ran into big trouble in brown shoes”

As these quotes illustrate, this book is worth reading for Pynchon’s audacious style alone. While it’s very enjoyable up to a point, the experience is a bit like being trapped in the company of some wise-cracking life-and-soul-of-the-party type who is too emmersed in his own cleverness to see your eyes glazing over and your brain disengaging.