I caught wind of the new Paul Thomas Anderson movie, Inherent Vice, some months ago. Anderson has long been one my favorite directors (constantly ranking in the my top two all time directors with the last name Anderson) so I was intrigued to learn more. When I found out that it was being adapted from a Thomas Pynchon novel of the same name, I was all in. (As a side note: I also like how the movie poster designers kept with the aesthetic of the book’s cover.)
I’ve long been curious about Pynchon’s work, having only grazed a short story or two here and there. So, I picked up Inherent Vice the book from my local library, read a couple of pages and promptly ordered it from Amazon so I could make notes and fold pages and generally enjoy the read without the stress of a looming due date.
Back in the beach pad there was a velvet painting of Jesus riding goofyfoot on a rough-hewn board with outriggers, meant to suggest a crucifix, through surf seldom observed on the Sea of Galilee, though this hardly presented a challenge to Flip’s faith. What was ‘walking on water,’ if it wasn’t Bible talk for surfing? In Australia once, a local surfer, holding the biggest can of beer Flip had ever seen, had even sold him a fragment of the True Board.
Admittedly, I don’t know a huge amount in regards to Pynchon aside from some of his major works like Crying of Lot 49, and Gravity’s Rainbow, and that his name is atop pretty much any list of major Post-Modern authors. As to his writing style, however, Vice is my first taste. And, while we’re discussing things I don’t know that much about, I have only a passing and largely distorted view of the late 60s and early 70s (which means I fit in with a lot of those that were actually there, amiright!), the majority of my knowledge coming from pop culture. That to say that the author and the subject matter sit just out of my comfort zone.
Inherent Vice follows über-hippy and private investigator Doc Sportello as he navigates southern California through a persistent drug haze in an attempt to find a missing person. The simplicity of the explanation belies the depths of the book, and, in fact, one of the things that I enjoyed most about the read is how Pynchon sets up a stereotypical encounter (hot dame waltzes into PI’s office) and then turns it on it’s head. The most visceral way I can describe reading Vice is this: imagine you’re in a bar, but one that is playing chill music so that the handful of people there don’t have to scream to be heard. One group in particular all seem to be telling the same story, but from different perspectives. You’re eavesdropping a bit, so getting the gist of what happened, but you still find yourself having to double back on some of the pertinent details. Oh, and you’re super stoned.
It was luck, dumb luck, that had put them each where they were, and the best way to pay for any luck, however temporary, was just to be helpful when you could.
It’s that ever invading drug fueled feel that gives Vice it’s distinct voice. Pynchon effortlessly travels from reality to drug trip and back, all while the narration carries Doc along towards an appropriately Post-Modern end. Like a lot of modern and contemporary works, Vice isn’t as much about the story or the resolution, but the moments that make up the story. In this, Pynchon excels, crafting moment after moment that build on each other in a subtle fashion as the book progresses. The best I can say for any book, in my mind, it that it ended when it should. So often we get truncated stories that leave us wanting or, worse perhaps, stories that carry on far longer than they have any right to. Approaching the end of Inherent Vice is like watching a southern California sunset; you know that the day is going to end, and you know roughly how it will look, but it’s still an amazingly satisfying experience to have witnessed it.