Thomas Pynchon revisits the California of too-easy living
Paul La Farge
by Thomas Pynchon
Penguin Press HC, The
$27.95 List Price
Inherent Vice, Thomas Pynchon’s seventh novel, follows so quickly on the heels of his sixth, the massive Against the Day (2006), that the teams of specialists who go over the fuselage of every Pynchon text as if it were a spy plane forced down by mechanical difficulties, identifying the probable origin and function of each part, writing up the results in Pynchon Notes or on the Internet, must be gnashing their teeth with weariness. The red telephone again? Aw, sheesh. If only there were some way to persuade them not to worry! Inherent Vice is by far the least puzzling Pynchon book to enter our airspace: a goof on the Los Angeles noir, starring a chronically stoned PI with a psychedelic wardrobe and a hankering for pizza. At fewer than four hundred pages, it’s also the shortest Pynchon novel to appear since Vineland (1990); you could almost recommend it to your book club, or to your kids, if they still read books.
Inherent Vice takes place in the same world as Vineland, a California peopled by hippies and the cops who prey on them, plus assorted musicians, lunatics, militants, and crooks. But where Vineland is set in 1984, the dark heart of the Reagan years, Inherent Vice happens in 1970, when the counterculture is still in full swing, even if signs of its decay have begun to appear. Enter “Doc” Sportello (an Italian word that roughly means either “door” or “window”), a detective whose Gordita Beach apartment features a beach volleyball autographed by Wilt Chamberlain in Day-Glo felt marker and such like. Doc’s ex-girlfriend Shasta Fay appears one night to tell him that