Surf Noir: Thomas Pynchon's Inherent Vice

Diving into 1970 L.A., the noted novelist tokes up a comic detective tale

It's this kind of affectionate, low-key psychedelic nostalgia that is the upshot of Inherent Vice, which is neither as ambitious as Gravity's Rainbow nor as abstruse as Against the Day. A lark for Pynchon, however, still qualifies as a more or less major novel. Animated in the pages of Inherent Vice are both the "great collective dream" of the 1960s and its rapid undoing—the optimism and tragedy and fundamental silliness of the decade united side by side by side.

Like Vineland's Zoyd Wheeler (with whom Doc's cousin once played in a band), Doc is eventually forced to discover that though love itself endures, free-love most definitely does not. Already there's the prospect, in the high, 1970 summer of both Willis Reed and Charles Manson, that "a certain hand might reach terribly out of darkness and reclaim the time, easy as taking a joint from a doper and stubbing it out for good." Which, if you know the rest of the sad, Nixonite story, is exactly what ended up happening. Bummer, man.

zbaron@villagevoice.com

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