Inherent Vice, A Novel, Thomas Pynchon, Penguin Books, 369 pp., 2009,$27.95.
Not sure what to do with this. Is it noir detective fiction? No. Is it comedy detective? No. Inherent Vice is set in Gordita Beach, a California surf city and during the early seventies. Doc Sportello, licensed private detective who has cut his chops in the skip tracing business is the protagonist. Brews, broads, and weed are never out of reach for Doc. Friends, clients and enemies have curious names: Shasta Fay, Reet, Denis (rhymes with penis), Petunia, Shauncho, Dr. Blatnoyd, and a host of others.
At issue is the disappearance of Micky Wolfmann, multi-millionaire real estate developer, whose main squeeze, other than his wife, is Shasta Fay for whom Doc is caring a torch. There are a few subplots and investigations that drop clues for the main plot. Maritime law, the ARPANet (early Internet), film, rock lyrics, and the mythical Pacific lost continent of Lemuria are summoned by the author to decorate the thin plot.
Will Inherent Vice be a film? Big Liebowski, PI? Doc and Bigfoot Bjornsen, LAPD detective, have some comic dialog. Sportello is a likable guy but his dope chatter takes him only so far. There is little momentum in the novel, possibly because nearly all the characters are smoking weed. At times though, Sportello and Bjornson are reflective in a serious way about the impact of currents events. What did the Manson Murders do to California's psyche? But also, there are sterotpyic toss off statements regarding surf culture, weed culture, political culture, and casino culture.
Lots of old movies, lots of music lyrics, lots of dope jokes pad the narrative. Pynchon, well known among the literati for his densely intricate novels, such as Gravity's Rainbow, has over compensated with Inherent Vice. It is
simplistic and nostalgic, much like the latest Springsteen album. One wonders if Pynchon's financial portfolio in the autumn of 2008 lost half its value and Inherent Vice was offered to the public as part of his own stimulus package. It is not a successful parody if it was intended to be one. Inherent Vice's future might rest in a graphic novel/film collaboration. Maybe of Frank Miller and Robert Rodriguez are interested in the film rights. Sin City Two: The Comedy.