I’ve been holding off on this book because Pynchon is one of those authors that causes all other fiction to seem mundane. The richness of his prose and the pedantic scope of his narration is incomparable to any other author – well it was, until Inherent Vice came onto the stage. This novel is unique to Pynchon in that he has locked himself into the genre of the PI detective story and therefore Pynchon has allowed himself to be comparable to the cannon writers of the genre, perhaps Raymond Chandler. However, it would be below Pynchon to simply write a detective story, so of course he he has added the twist is that it is written in the background of 1970 surfer/hippy counterculture instead of the classic 1940’s. This setting within the genre gives Inherent Vice unique charm not found in any of Pynchon’s other works.
It could be said that this is Pynchon’s most “approachable” work, but I still found myself getting lost in the myriad plot tangents, as is expected of anything from the Pynchon universal web of interconnected coincidental circumstances. The unique charm of Inherent Vice is that the protagonist, Larry “Doc” Sportello, as a stoned tripper PI is often just as lost as the reader as a result of his doped extracurricular activities and therefore, getting lost in the plot is, in a sense, inconsequential to the main intent of the novel’s value as a piece of artistic entertainment. It is a spoof on the genre as evidenced by Doc’s inability to discover some great connected conspiracy of interconnected crimes, because there isn’t one. Doc’s investigations discover several seemingly connected crimes only because he is out on the streets and mingles with the world of crime and conspiracy.
Ultimately, this isn’t a novel about a mystery that needs to be solved, but an opus to an era lost. The big crime buried within the novel is that the rich real estate mogul turned acid-dropping peace lover was about to give away his fortune only to be “brainwashed” by a period of sobriety that caused him to retract his generous exploits. This is the era of Nixon and the sixties are fading amidst the shadow of a new consumer culture: this is the only crime conspiracy that Doc discovers, that the hope shared and celebrated during a certain time will be lost to unforgiving passage of time forgettable.
“and here was Doc, on the natch, caught in a low-level bummer he couldn’t find a way out of, about how the Psychedelic Sixties, this little parenthesis of light, might close out after all, and be lost, taken back into the darkness…how a certain hand might reach terribly out of darkness and reclaim the times, easy as taking a joint from a doper and stubbing it out for good.” (254-5)