Excerpt: Thomas Pynchon's Inherent Vice

A lot has been written on what draws us to books.. Their jacket cover, the buzz around town, the sexy or intellectual photo of the author on the back of the cover, whatever turns you on..

But what about what draws us away from books? Now, I don't mean that we're repelled or God forbid disgusted by these books. But we're reluctant to pick them up, for fear we'd disappoint them, or they disappoint us.

We've all got at least one or more books or authors we shy away from..

We're secretly drawn to them. Their names or their books' titles linger many a times on our tongues or journey amidst our brains. 

I'm talking about Tolstoi's War and Peace; James Joyce's Ulysses or Finnegans Wake; Don Delilo's Underworld (well, almost anything by Don Delilo) David Foster Wallace's Infinite Jest; Thomas Pynchon's Gravity's Rainbow (well almost anything by Thomas Pynchon..)

And this is just my 'list of 'awed' writers.. 

Pynchon's led the list for a good decade or so.

For some reason, I was always reluctant, or better yet, wary of and hesitant to pick any of his recalcitrant books up and give them the old once over..

I'd even bought a Penguin-Classics used copy of Gravity's Rainbow some 2-3 years ago.. And I've had the hebrew edition of The Crying of Lot 49 sitting on my bookshelf for God knows how long, but I never really picked any of the up and dusted their jackets.. 

Now, when Pynchon published Inherent Vice, a Sixties Rock N' Roll meets Private Dic'-Film Noir flic Novel - well, what sounds like a more accessible, easier read - I knew I had to pick a copy of the Novel at my local Steimatzky (what with 25% off all EnglishFiction and 2 brand new paperback novels for 100 NIS, I couldn't resist the temptation anyway, so..) 

Right away, I knew I liked the cover, which is always a good start (I don't know about you, but 'good' covers lure me into reading!) 

What did I like about it? 

Well, the HUGE Station-wagon for starters.. (is it a Cadillac?? Don't know why but it reminds me of Back to the Future). 

Then the fact that's it's under 400 pages, which basically promises it to be one of his 'lightest' reads.. Is Pynchon becoming soft in his hay days? (he is 77 after all..) 

Finally, of course my Pynchon-Awe ;) Though you have to admire a (young) writer who starts out his (writing) career writing for Boeing and goes on to (write and) publish sprawling, geopolitical, postmodern farces in 1960's-70's USA: V (563 pages. Published in 1963), Gravity's Rainbow (784 pages. Published in 1973. Won the National Book Award) & it goes on (and on) in the 1980's-90's: Mason & Dixon (784 pages) and Against the Day (1,104 pages!).

I then knew I had to look up 'Inherent Vice' on the internet (you know, that old' dusted library on your Mac'..) and, much to my surprise, this is what I found: 

inherent vice: n. ~ The tendency of material to deteriorate due to the essential instability of the components or interaction among components.

* special thanks to http://www.inherentvice.net/

What's it about, you ask?

Well, it's a classic murder/suspense, private dic'/noir kind of novel, or as the jacket cover says: 

"It's been awhile since Doc Sportello has seen his ex-girlfriend. Suddenly out of nowhere she shows up with a story about a plot to kidnap a billionaire land developer whom she just happens to be in love with. Easy for her to say. It's the tail end of the psychedelic sixties in L.A., and Doc knows that "love" is another of those words going around at the moment, like "trip" or "groovy," except that this one usually leads to trouble. Despite which he soon finds himself drawn into a bizarre tangle of motives and passions whose cast of characters includes surfers, hustlers, dopers and rockers, a murderous loan shark, a tenor sax player working undercover, an ex-con with a swastika tattoo and a fondness for Ethel Merman, and a mysterious entity known as the Golden Fang, which may only be a tax dodge set up by some dentists."

A typical boy (re)meets girl; girl asks boy to murder her (other) boy; boy grapples with his conscience story..

Well, kinda.. Read a short excerpt here.

As you can see, the narrative is very private-dic' film-noir'esque. The narrator and main protagonist, Doc the dic', seems to be taken right out of all that long American 20th century Hardboiled, Crime Fiction genre: kind of Raymond Chandler meets Columbo..

Here's a little passage, a few pages on, where the narrator's 'stream of thought' runs wild: 

"Shasta named a sum. Doc had outrun souped-up Rollses full of indignant smack dealers on the Pasadena Freeway, doing a hundred in the fog and trying to steer through all those crudely engineered curves, he'd walked up back alleys east of the L.A. River with nothing but a borrowed 'fro pick in his baggies for protection, been in and out of the Hall of Justice while holding a small fortune in Vietnamese weed, and these days had nearly convinced himself all that reckless era was over with, but now he was beginning to feel deeply nervous again. "This…" carefully now, "this isn't just a couple of X–rated Polaroids, then. Dope planted in the glove compartment, nothin like 'at…"

And if all this didn't turn you ON enough, here's a little promo Video for the book, narrated by your very own Thomas Pynchon:

VERDICT: BUY IT (cos' Pynchon might never be this 'easy' to read again..)


  1. Whoa. EXCELLENT post. You have sold it to me. I have been seduced. I must admit, Pynchon is also one I often shy away from. I did manage to read 'Crying of Lot 49' and when I did eventually 'get it' it almost blew my head off.

    Pynchon is one of those writers that is on my awe list. The video is great. Good to hear his voice. He's 77? He's full of humour '27.95?' three weeks of groceries! lol.

    Anyway, I'll take your word for it. I'm going out to buy it pronto. I like dick-tracy noiresque stuff. There isn't enough of it around.

  2. Tx for the kind words, mywordlyobsessions.
    I do recommend you buy it.. I know i did ;)

  3. I havta ask-- exactly where is that photo from? Are you sure it's him? I haven't seen it anywhere but here, and you probably know of his extreme elusiveness.

  4. Replies
    1. Nautilos: It takes us to "The Dharma bums", A book I happened to give to a friend for his birthday and since then, we never talked about books again. I suppose Kerouac is at the top of his authors' awe list