Part noir, part psychedelic romp, all Thomas Pynchon. Private eye Doc Sportello comes, occasionally, out of a marijuana haze to watch the end of an era as free love slips away and paranoia creeps in with the L.A. fog. It's been awhile since Doc 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 that, 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....More
This book is a classic Pynchon novel except that it's completely accessible, unlike his actual classic, Gravity's Rainbow. Rolling Stone's Rob Sheffield titled his review of Inherent Vice "The Bigger Lebowski", and this is absolutely the truth, convincingly supported by the fact that Ron McLarty's voice work here could easily be mistaken for Jeff Bridges. Pynchon's hippie hero is Larry "Doc" Sportello, a private dick whose skills of detection are not so much hard-boiled as drug-addled. McLarty's low, gritty tones are a perfect fit for Doc's pot-smoked antics in this filmic noir.
When Sportello's ex-girlfriend turns to him for help in anticipation of her billionaire boyfriend's future kidnapping, things quickly and naturally get complicated in the winter of 1970. Let's just say it involves a motley crew of surfers, strippers, junkies, scammers, hippies, and loonies, a shady posse known as the Golden Fang that are either mafioso or dentists, 20 kilos of heroin, and a coffin full of funny money with Nixon's face on it. Of course, the Sherlock Holmes to Doc's Watson and also the perpetual rain on his parade is straight-laced cop cowboy Bigfoot Bjornsen. Bigfoot and Doc's fundamentally different worldviews put them in constant conflict on the same case, leaning on one another while stepping on each other's toes. McLarty doesn't miss a beat in his portrayal of their hilarious and timeless debate between authoritarianism and communalism.
There are trademark Pynchon motifs throughout the story that devotees of the author will be glad to see. The Southern California setting is where Pynchon is at his very best, and his deep knowledge of music is definitely in evidence. McLarty is even forced to sing several surf rock tunes, which he does with surprising alacrity. There is the author's usual consideration of race wars and imperialism, where McLarty does convincing Hispanic and Asia-Pacific accents of various kinds common to the region. There is the extensive set of acronyms and anagrams, where McLarty somehow manages not to laugh while referring to things like the hippy-busting cop squad known as "P-DIDdies", short for "Public Disorder Intelligence Division".
This is Pynchon at his most readable, and he sticks to driving the plot with relatively few digressions. Still, this is also Pynchon at his most recognizable. Though the tale is finely tuned to resemble such cult gems as The Big Lebowski, no other author could have cranked it out quite so colorfully. Thomas Pynchon isn't taking any easy outs with this one. He took a beloved story and crafted a fleshy parallel, which Ron McLarty lovingly gives voice to a style that will not disappoint even the most die-hard fans of either Pynchon or Lebowski. Megan Volpert
"Inherent Vice is the funniest book Pynchon has written. It's also a crazed and majestic summary of everything that makes him a uniquely huge American voice. It has the moral fury that's fueled his work from the start - his ferociously batshit compassion for America and the lost tribes who wander through it." (Rolling Stone)
“Inherent Vice is Thomas Pynchon doing Raymond Chandler through a Jim Rockford looking glass, starring Cheech Marin (or maybe Tommy Chong). What could easily be mistaken as a paean to 1960s Southern California is also a sly herald of that era's end. This, of course, is exactly the kind of layered meaning that readers expect of Pynchon... With Pynchon's brilliance comes readability." (Los Angeles Times)
"A Great American Read-a terrific pastiche of California noir, wonderfully amusing throughout (and hard to quote from in a family newspaper because of the frequent use of, uh, colorful spoken language) and a poignant evocation of the last flowering of the '60s, just before everything changed and passed into myth or memory." (Washington Post)
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If you enjoyed The Crying of Lot 49...
- Phil Selman
Fun Pynchon, don't be afraid