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Slumming It?
August 3, 2009 3:05 PM   Subscribe

Thomas Pynchon’s latest novel Inherent Vice, is causing quite a stir, and not just because all his novels cause a stir. It seems the author of epic novels of giant adenoids and invisible clockwork ducks has written a-gasp-detective novel, which weighs in at an astoundingly reasonable 384 pages. Some have noted confusion among Pynchon aficionados at the author’s choice to work in such a genre. One writer has used the opportunity to examine why supposed “literary” writers have turned to the crime genre with varying degrees of success, and at least one critic seems genuinely put out by Pynchon’s creative choice.
posted by dortmunder (97 comments total) 13 users marked this as a favorite

 
Haven't read "Inherent Vice" yet but.. wasn't Vineland pretty much the same book? Then who is this surprising to?
posted by neustile at 3:06 PM on August 3, 2009


Is this where we fight about how genre lit sucks and literary lit doesn't?
posted by rtha at 3:13 PM on August 3, 2009 [3 favorites]


I'll come back to this thread once I've read the book--I'm on a review blackout until I finish it--but I'm surprised that anyone would be surprised by Pynchon's choice to work in detective fiction, since one of the few things all his books have in common is heavy usage of genre tropes. Maybe the marketing is making it look more dissimilar from his other work than it actually is.
posted by Prospero at 3:13 PM on August 3, 2009 [4 favorites]


oh man, you know how aggravating it would be to read this and discover it's another Crying of Lot 49 style prank?
posted by shmegegge at 3:16 PM on August 3, 2009


I don't think it's going to be a problem for me, but I hope no one ever decides I'm a genius. I never want to be criticized for merely writing a good book.
posted by Bookhouse at 3:19 PM on August 3, 2009 [14 favorites]


Haven't read "Inherent Vice" yet but.. wasn't Vineland pretty much the same book? Then who is this surprising to?

Agreed. The Wall Street Journal article appears to consider Vineland to be of a type with his larger, more complex works:
It took Mr. Pynchon 17 years after publishing “Gravity’s Rainbow” to come out with “Vineland,” seven years after that to complete “Mason & Dixon,” and nine years to publish “Against the Day.”
and I don't get that at all. What the hell is Vineland if not a very accessible "drug-store thriller," and how is this (which I've not read yet) any different?
posted by dersins at 3:24 PM on August 3, 2009


Yay! A Pynchon novel that won't just sit on my shelf and glower at me accusingly like Mason & Dixon.
posted by BitterOldPunk at 3:33 PM on August 3, 2009 [12 favorites]


Maybe the marketing is making it look more dissimilar from his other work than it actually is.

I am guessing this, and I believe at least one early review I read hinted that it was perhaps not as light as it would appear on first read through.

I'm keeping a close eye on the Inherent Jest wiki. I'm sure they'll find things I would completely miss. It really helped keep me going through some of the tougher sections of Against the Day.

Though I've seen no mention on the use of math or perverse sexual acts. It really isn't Pynchon unless at least one narrative arch follows the structure of an obscure mathematical hypothesis (Against the Day, Reimann Hypothesis).

Oh God, Pynchon makes me feel like a nerd version of those Twilight moms.
posted by geoff. at 3:35 PM on August 3, 2009 [1 favorite]


Why has he settled for a stoned-out detective story?

What was Crying of Lot 49? V? Or Gravity's Rainbow? Or Vineland? Or M&D? Or Against the Day? ... this seems completely in line. All of his stories are detective stories in some way. And nearly everyone is nearly always stoned out of their mind on something.

I didn't read the review, though...
posted by mrgrimm at 3:41 PM on August 3, 2009 [2 favorites]


Vineland is a nesting doll of a novel, with flashbacks within flashbacks within flashbacks, drawing together into an examination of the apotheosis and armageddon of the California Sixties counter-culture.

From what I gather, this is a detective novel.

I might have something more to say once I've actually read the book, but I doubt Pynchon is merely retreading already-worn paths with the new book.

For starts, Vineland starts out in the 80s. The entire new novel is set in 1970, or thereabouts.
posted by hippybear at 3:44 PM on August 3, 2009 [1 favorite]


So, let me get this straight - literary blowhards are complaining that a literary author's book isn't literary enough?

Let me know when Pynchon finishes writing Doc Sportello: Inherent Vice 2.
posted by jabberjaw at 3:47 PM on August 3, 2009 [1 favorite]


Ah, I said "Inherent Jest" ... the ghost of DFW is angry at me for not partaking in Infinite Summer!
posted by geoff. at 3:47 PM on August 3, 2009 [1 favorite]


I just re-read "Vineland" and feel the need to post this passage:

"Then again, it's the whole Reagan program, isn't it -- dismantle the New Deal, reverse the effects of World War II, restore fascism at home and around the world, flee into the past, can't you feel it, all the dangerous, childish stupidity -- 'I don't like the way it came out, I want it to be my way.'"

Prescient, no?
posted by MonkeyToes at 3:50 PM on August 3, 2009 [12 favorites]


Vineland is the only Pynchon I've ever read (required reading for an American Lit course--thanks Dr. Zeitlin!), and I thoroughly enjoyed it, so if this one is like Vineland, then hooray. I'll definitely be checking it out. And it's a detective novel--even better!

(Re: genre fiction vs. literary fiction: I was at a party once chatting with a fellow about books--we discovered we had an English Lit degree in common--and I said I liked reading mysteries and he stared at me like I was from outer space and said, "Really? You don't look the type." I asked him what he meant because it was genuinely puzzling to me but the conversation kind of fizzled after that.)
posted by hurdy gurdy girl at 4:11 PM on August 3, 2009 [1 favorite]


Did they get all mad when Eco wrote The Name Of The Rose, or did they they get confused by page 10, not finish it, and not realize that it was a detective novel, too?
posted by The World Famous at 4:14 PM on August 3, 2009 [3 favorites]


dortmunder: …and at least one critic seems genuinely put out by Pynchon’s creative choice.

No offense, but Jonathan Rosenbaum isn't just some critic; aside from being one of the best film critics I know of working today, he's a damned smart man—and he's certainly not a 'Pynchon aficionado,' although I'm sure he admires his work. Furthermore, his argument is certainly not, as is implied in the post, that Thomas Pynchon is 'slumming it' or that he's too good for detective fiction; Rosenbaum clearly has no small respect for the genre. But even somebody who loves detective fiction can be fully aware that there's a lot of crap examples of it out there—don't believe me, just ask Raymond Chandler—and Rosenbaum's essay seems to be saying that Thomas Pynchon's not 'slumming it' so much as not living up to his own standard.
posted by koeselitz at 4:15 PM on August 3, 2009 [2 favorites]


What was Crying of Lot 49?

Well, yeah.

/failed to read any longer Pynchon.
posted by Artw at 4:17 PM on August 3, 2009


So, let me get this straight - literary blowhards are complaining that a literary author's book isn't literary enough?

This is a phony controversy cooked up to generate press and boost sales. For heaven's sake, the high literary world went through it's genre-phase in the 1970s and 80s, when every big literary writer came out with a post-modern genre "parody," from Joyce Carol Oates' "Bellefleur" to John Berger's hard-boiled "Who Killed Teddy Villanova?" At least three professors at my Ivy League college published detective novels in the late 70s (one developed a rather successful series). Edward Hoagland was writing westerns. Gore Vidal did a series of detecitve novels under the pseudonym Edgar Box. Pynchon (or his publicist) is just way behind the times.
posted by Faze at 4:18 PM on August 3, 2009 [1 favorite]


Maybe he read some Neal Stephenson and decided it wasn't such a bad deal?
posted by ifthe21stcentury at 4:21 PM on August 3, 2009 [2 favorites]


So I take it I should read this Pynchon fellow, then? He's always struck me as having a distinctly odd market-share; as though he's a kind of Hemingway of my generation, the kind of writer whom everyone is expected to have read, whom everyone feels they must have on their shelf in order to appear to be ‘intelligent’ or ‘intellectual.’ This has always been utterly astounding to me owing to the fact that my generation generally doesn't do the whole intellectual posturing thing—or at least I'd thought they didn't; one of our few virtues, I thought. For example, I tend to wonder what in the living hell would lead BitterOldPunk to have a copy of Mason & Dixon on his shelf glowering accusingly—not that he shouldn't have a particular book on his shelf, but he's always struck me as the free-spirited type who wouldn't be constrained by what he was supposed to have read. If anything, that's what's kept me from reading Thomas Pynchon all these years; that, while we flout convention any old time, and while we aren't pretentious about people who haven't read Jane Austen or don't know who Homer is (and as well we shouldn't) we seem to have this anxiety to make sure we've read Thomas Pynchon. What the hell's that about? Or am I just paranoid?

Anyhow, if anybody's about to wade into the 'genre fiction' vs. 'literary fiction' argument, let me say that it's a blatantly false dichotomy. Dashiell Hammett wrote five of the greatest novels written in the English language, and they aren't constrained in any way by genre. Good fucking god, Red Harvest was absolutely devastating—more devastating than anything else in American fiction aside from Blood Meridian, I think, and just as unrelenting. Whoever heard of a ‘detective novel’ or a ‘murder mystery,’ any time before or any time since, that ends up averaging out to, oh, about half a dozen murders per ten-page chapter? 'Blood simple' is right.
posted by koeselitz at 4:31 PM on August 3, 2009 [3 favorites]


FWIW, I've always thought mystery to be the most literary of the genre stable, and I imagine that's pretty much standard. I mean, It's arguably the oldest, and having a 160 year pedigree - with much of its greatness going down in the Victorian Era - helps a lot when dealing with things being considered literary, and by extension, the willingness with which literary folk will travel down that path.

I mean, it's hardly fair to lump mystery in with all the other genres. You can point to some 19th century for some sort-of examples of fantasy and sci-fi, but any real honest discussion of the genre *begins* in the 1920s, at which time the mystery genre was firing on all-cylinders: Christie, Hardy Boys, as well as motion picture and radio dramas. By which time, its worth noting, the multiple generations had grown up on Poe, to say nothing of a singular Consulting Detective, as well as all the convention development and that *eighty years* of lead time to evolve, mature, and develop brings.

Also: The Name of the Rose is a detective novel second.
posted by absalom at 4:31 PM on August 3, 2009 [1 favorite]



No offense, but Jonathan Rosenbaum isn't just some critic; aside from being one of the best film critics I know of working today, he's a damned smart man—and he's certainly not a 'Pynchon aficionado,' although I'm sure he admires his work. Furthermore, his argument is certainly not, as is implied in the post, that Thomas Pynchon is 'slumming it' or that he's too good for detective fiction;

Explain this then:


But Inherent Vice is certainly a classic illustration of something or other, such as (maybe) giving up the project of being a serious novelist, albeit without offending anyone except for a few longtime and die-hard fans like me. And at least it's a yarn, which Pynchon has never quite managed before.

Rosenbaum certainly seems to be accusing Pynchon of giving up on being a serious novelist because he wrote a detective novel.
posted by dortmunder at 4:32 PM on August 3, 2009


jabberjaw: So, let me get this straight - literary blowhards are complaining that a literary author's book isn't literary enough?

No, not that I can tell. At least none of the linked authors seem to think that—despite the poster's apparent perception that they did.
posted by koeselitz at 4:32 PM on August 3, 2009


It seems the author of epic novels of giant adenoids and invisible clockwork ducks

My dyslexic brain, currently stewing in whiskey, read that as giant androids and invisible clock work ducts.... and thought 'wossers, I've got to read me a whole lot more Pynchon'
posted by fearfulsymmetry at 4:37 PM on August 3, 2009


I would give it a try if only because I dislike the "serious" novels he has written up till now. In my estimation, highly overated and not fun or enjoyable to read. Crying at least is short.
posted by Postroad at 4:37 PM on August 3, 2009 [1 favorite]


But Inherent Vice is certainly a classic illustration of something or other, such as (maybe) giving up the project of being a serious novelist, albeit without offending anyone except for a few longtime and die-hard fans like me. - Jonathan Rosenbaum

So Pynchon writes a new book that is (gasp!) less than a thousand pages long, embraces genre fiction, and is, insofar as Pynchon's novels are "about" anything, about elements of the sixties counterculture. To Jonathan Rosenbaum, this apparently means he's no longer a "serious novelist."

Against the Day came out less than three years ago!
posted by inoculatedcities at 4:44 PM on August 3, 2009


dortmunder: Rosenbaum certainly seems to be accusing Pynchon of giving up on being a serious novelist because he wrote a detective novel.

No, Rosenbaum seems to be accusing Pynchon of giving up on being a serious novelist because he wrote a shitty detective novel.

from link, starting from where you quoted: But Inherent Vice is certainly a classic illustration of something or other, such as (maybe) giving up the project of being a serious novelist, albeit without offending anyone except for a few longtime and die-hard fans like me. And at least it's a yarn, which Pynchon has never quite managed before.

For once, this flouter of reader expectations is playing by most of the genre rules…The hero may be living, emotionally, inside a sort of amiable deep freeze, but Pynchon still takes pains to furnish most of the usual mystery staples. There's everything from a glamorous ingénue in trouble (Doc's ex) in the opening scene to an eventual plot resolution, of sorts, with carefully contrived (if implausible) narrow escapes and belated sexual rewards for hapless Doc—long after we've given up hope of him ever getting laid…There are also plenty of funny hard-boiled rejoinders ("You are one crazy white motherfucker." "How can you tell?" "I counted."), plus frequent authorial annotations about weather conditions, what cars people are driving, what freeways and freeway exits they're taking, and especially what kind of reefer they're smoking ("prerolled Panamanian," "seedless Hawaiian," "inexpensive Mexican produce," "Asian indica, heavily aromatic") that more or less match Raymond Chandler's accounts of all the lousy meals Marlowe ate.


As a distinct fan of the ‘genre’ myself, let me say that I love Raymond Chandler; and I can't fucking stand it when another guy comes along and does that Raymond Chandler thing for the billionth time already. To say that disliking poor Raymond Chandler imitations or tired noirish clichés is the same thing as hating the detective-novel genre is to say that anybody who doesn't want to hear another cover of the song ‘Hallelujah’ hates Leonard Cohen. It just doesn't follow.

I've never read Pynchon, as I've said above, so I have no idea if he'd even do something like what Rosenbaum claims he's doing; but if he really is just retreading through tired old noir memes and rattling off the same lines about how it was dark and stormy outside when the killer rapped on the door or how I woke up at two in the afternoon and had a drink for breakfast before putting on my tie and going to my office, well, let me just say: he's not doing any favors to the detective-novel genre. In fact, he's burying it, just like every other hack has been doing for fifty years.

One doesn't have to hate detective novels to hate bad detective novels. Much to the contrary.
posted by koeselitz at 4:45 PM on August 3, 2009 [2 favorites]


We've gotten a few advance review copies in at the Famous bookstore, but co-workers have beaten me to them. The cover looks all airport-novel mystery, which is kind of a cool move, if you ask me. As far as the critical response...well, nobody really gives a fat rat's ass what they think anyway, so just read it and make up your own mind.
posted by jonmc at 4:47 PM on August 3, 2009


"...it's the whole Reagan program...reverse the effects of World War II, restore fascism at home and around the world..."

Prescient, no?


No.
posted by The Tensor at 4:54 PM on August 3, 2009 [1 favorite]


…and Jonathan Rosenbaum's criticism is chock-full of deep praise for noir films with Raymond Chandler scripts, for Dashiell Hammett plots, for all the great products of detective fiction; it's clear to me that he doesn't view detective fiction as inherently literarily bankrupt. So the fact that he finds the new Pynchon novel disappointing would seem to have little to do with the fact that it's a detective novel and a whole lot to do with the fact that Mr. Rosenbaum seems to think it's just clichéd—and apparently would think so even if it had avoided the detective genre entirely.
posted by koeselitz at 5:04 PM on August 3, 2009


He's always struck me as having a distinctly odd market-share; as though he's a kind of Hemingway of my generation, the kind of writer whom everyone is expected to have read, whom everyone feels they must have on their shelf in order to appear to be ‘intelligent’ or ‘intellectual.’ This has always been utterly astounding to me owing to the fact that my generation generally doesn't do the whole intellectual posturing thing—or at least I'd thought they didn't; one of our few virtues, I thought. For example, I tend to wonder what in the living hell would lead BitterOldPunk to have a copy of Mason & Dixon on his shelf glowering accusingly—not that he shouldn't have a particular book on his shelf, but he's always struck me as the free-spirited type who wouldn't be constrained by what he was supposed to have read.

I won't speak for BitterOldPunk, but in my experience the glowering-from-the-shelfness of Pynchon's work has little to with being "constrained by what [I] was supposed to have read." It's more that Pynchon's work is a hell of a lot of fun, but is often very imposing (based on page-count and ornateness of language).
posted by brundlefly at 5:06 PM on August 3, 2009 [2 favorites]


Why do I always have to look up the word "palimpsest"? I'll never get to be a book reviewer.
posted by emhutchinson at 5:07 PM on August 3, 2009 [1 favorite]


Faze: This is a phony controversy cooked up to generate press and boost sales. For heaven's sake, the high literary world went through it's genre-phase in the 1970s and 80s, when every big literary writer came out with a post-modern genre "parody," from Joyce Carol Oates' "Bellefleur" to John Berger's hard-boiled "Who Killed Teddy Villanova?" At least three professors at my Ivy League college published detective novels in the late 70s (one developed a rather successful series). Edward Hoagland was writing westerns. Gore Vidal did a series of detecitve novels under the pseudonym Edgar Box. Pynchon (or his publicist) is just way behind the times.

Underlining this: if there's anything I can't stand, it's ‘genre fiction, ’ not for its own sake but for the sake of all the people who see it as a genre. Raymond Chandler's works had a sort of gothic charm to the clearly put-on attitude; and he was dead right to claim himself that his own work stood mostly on the strength of Dashiell Hammett's authenticity. That's the glory of Hammett's novels: not a wasted word, not a moment that is anything more than cold and neutral, no romanticism but on the contrary a basic, instinctive, almost brutal eschewing of romanticism. Anybody who's actually read The Maltese Falcon can see that plainly—it takes balls, balls almost no real man could actually have, to betray human beings for the sake of justice—and this lesson is in The Glass Key and all of the Continental Op stories, as well, if one knows where to look.

It almost doesn't matter, in fact, that Dashiell Hammett was a Pinkerton detective for years, a real ‘international op;’ that he saw men killed in the line of duty and had to stay on his toes to figure out what to do about it; that he once turned down ten grand he was offered to bump off a union rep by someone who may very well have been connected to the very Pinkerton agency he worked for. People talk about these things because it's true that Hammett, unlike nearly every single other person who's ever written a detective novel, actual lived this life. But again, these things are only a pointer to something else, and when people say that Dashiell Hammett's work was ‘authentic,’ they might not even realize that what's authentic is the writing itself; Hammett's theme, which he established (or re-established) at the heart of the detective novel so firmly that it could last for a long, long time as an enduring central motif, was the notion of authenticity itself, of being true to yourself and what you know is right even if everyone else disagrees with you, even if everyone else thinks you're a loon, even if everyone else is guilty. It's the notion of insisting on justice in an unjust world, and what that insistence means; and every true detective novel since has lived in the shadow of that motif. Far too many ‘post-modern’ critics of the last twenty years have been dull enough to look directly past that most central of themes and be enthralled instead by Chandler's florid prose; this suits them well, since they seem to believe that things like an earnest belief in or desire for justice is the sort of silly naìveté that leads to Victorian garden-party mysteries. Dashiell Hammett was the first and last man who had enough balls to say: “yeah, well, I'm sure it'll seem pretty fucking silly to you when you're all lying dead on the pavement.” He meant it, too. He could imagine such stuff, whereas we're far too bored now to picture ourselves on the concrete with the life draining out of us.
posted by koeselitz at 5:22 PM on August 3, 2009 [14 favorites]


Pynchon (or his publicist) is just way behind the times.

Or maybe he just likes detective novels and thought it'd be fun to write one. Watching people having conniption fits over it is probably just a bonus.
posted by jonmc at 5:25 PM on August 3, 2009 [5 favorites]


I may be among the few who thought that AtD was brilliant, love Vineland and laughed heartily at Lot 49 (the mere fact that an Illuminati style conspiracy story can be told in only 141 pages is funny enough, ain't it Dan Brown?), so i'm prepared to soak up this new one with an open mind.
Let's face it...TP is getting older, and maybe, just maybe, he wanted to tap something out in less than a decade. A morsel of goodness rather than a feast.
Hopefully it will be available for my Kindle.
posted by OHenryPacey at 5:26 PM on August 3, 2009


It's not so much that I feel that I should read it it's that it stands as a mute testimony to my increasingly unchallenging reading choices. Read V. Loved it. Read Gravity's Rainbow, was enthralled and infuriated, but I did read the whole damn thing. Read Vineland. Liked it. But Mason & Dixon was like a brick wall. Just couldn't make myself read it. Didn't even bother to buy Against the Day, knew I'd never read it. So Mason & Dixon has become for me a talisman of fail. I'll be sitting there reading the latest Ian Rankin mystery and I can feel Mason & Dixon's cold dead eyes upon me, staring, staring.
posted by BitterOldPunk at 5:27 PM on August 3, 2009 [5 favorites]


I've never read any Pynchon, but "invisible clockwork ducks" in a detective story has me very intrigued.
posted by DU at 5:35 PM on August 3, 2009


BitterOldPunk: It's not so much that I feel that I should read it it's that it stands as a mute testimony to my increasingly unchallenging reading choices.

Heh. Yeah, I understand that. Not long ago, there I was, reading things like Beckett and Homer; now, it's miraculous that I can get through a Chandler novel—not that they're bad, they're just, well, a lot easier…and I suspect I'm getting pretty soft as far as my reading is concerned. Hell, I've been impressed at myself for getting into The Dream Songs so much—it really is awesome—but I begin to wonder if that's only because it's easier to digest poetry.
posted by koeselitz at 5:46 PM on August 3, 2009


What's the point of posting this now, before even the most committed Pynchon readers have even had a chance to touch the book? Has anyone posting in this thread read it? I'm still waiting for my pre-ordered copy to show up, and certainly not planning on reading reviews before then.
posted by RogerB at 5:53 PM on August 3, 2009


Koeselitz: Or am I just paranoid?

EXACTLY.
posted by mike_bling at 6:02 PM on August 3, 2009 [5 favorites]


I thought Mason & Dixon was totally readable. Much easier to get through than Against The Day. I still haven't finished that one, although I feel a twang of devoted-reader guilt every time I see it on the shelf.

And yeah, Pynchon is getting older. He's 72 now. I don't know how much energy it takes to write the way he does, but another 10-year-gestation for a novel would likely result in an unfinished manuscript which we then all would argue about whether it should even be published or not.

I'd rather see him crank out another couple 3-year books before it's too late, than have him vanish into the ether and only resurface when he's gone. I like Pynchon. I like his humor, his worldview, his paranoia (can one like that?), his prose...

I don't recommend him to many people, but I always am happy to pick up his works for my own pleasure.
posted by hippybear at 6:05 PM on August 3, 2009 [1 favorite]


I've never read Pynchon*, but I did read this appreciation of his work by Joel Stein: The Case for Pynchon. It's a fairly rotten appreciation but it's so earnest, even desperate, that I can't help but wonder what inspired it. I like what it says about the books as enormous gambles of epic weird. Stein's twist on the old saw, "stick to what you know" is inspiring and daring. And that's how come I have four of Pynchon's books, unread on my shelves.

*Okay, so I have read a chapter or so of Gravity's Rainbow.
posted by wobh at 6:11 PM on August 3, 2009


"Hammett's theme, which he established (or re-established) at the heart of the detective novel so firmly that it could last for a long, long time as an enduring central motif, was the notion of authenticity itself, of being true to yourself and what you know is right even if everyone else disagrees with you, even if everyone else thinks you're a loon, even if everyone else is guilty."

Well, kind of. I think that's certainly one of the main themes of the modern detective novel, but it's not necessarily the soul of noir writing. Take Jim Thompson for example--there's rarely a sense of authenticity as the central conflict, his characters are willing to contort themselves to whatever option hurts less even at the cost of ideals, or take Paul Auster (the go-to for recent literary "detective novels," where the existential dilemmas revolve around accident and how to deal with the arbitrary notions of detective book.
posted by klangklangston at 6:48 PM on August 3, 2009 [3 favorites]


What? No shoutouts to Borges yet?
In this chaotic era of ours one thing has humbly maintained the classic virtues: the detective story. For a detective story cannot be understood without a beginning, middle, and end... I would say in defense of the detective novel that it needs no defense; though now read with a certain disdain, it is safeguarding order in an era of disorder.
-Jorge Luis Borges
posted by jeremias at 6:55 PM on August 3, 2009 [3 favorites]


Why do I always have to look up the word "palimpsest"?

I know what it means, but I always do a double-take too, because that's not what it should mean.

On looks and sound alone, a palimpsest is clearly a tiny homunculur imp that you grew from your own cheek scrapings, and with which you have sexual relations in your basement.

(See, DU, now you'll always remember. You're welcome.)
posted by rokusan at 6:57 PM on August 3, 2009


I like Pynchon and his palimpsests* like DeLillo and DFW, but Gravity's Rainbow remains my white whale.

I get about halfway through each time. Something makes me drop it. I have never figured out what, since I have wrestled many more "difficult" books like IJ to the ground without much of a fight. Maybe it's cursed.

(* Meaning #2)
posted by rokusan at 7:01 PM on August 3, 2009


The problem with a reputation is that you then have to deal with people who demand you live up to it every day of the rest of your life. It's entirely possible this is Thomas Pynchon telling people to fuck off, he'll write what he damn well pleases. And if so, good for him.
posted by jscalzi at 7:04 PM on August 3, 2009 [1 favorite]


I really enjoyed Gravity's Rainbow -- thought it took me longer to read than anything else I've ever read, close on two months --, and I enjoyed Crying, but I could never get into Vineland.
posted by orthogonality at 7:17 PM on August 3, 2009


Paranoia!
Even Goya
Couldn't draw ya.

--Gravity's Rainbow
posted by gimonca at 7:18 PM on August 3, 2009 [1 favorite]


Mainstream lit like little niches and cubbyholes they can assign people to. It upsets the established order considerably when an author doesn't recognize the niche they've been assigned to, or heaven help them, break stereotype.

This is why I like science fiction - if you decide to write a mystery novel that revolves around a courtroom thriller involving vampires on a spaceship falling in love with a regency-period poet, no-one will bat an eye, so long as it's well written... and no-one is much put out if you decide to follow it up with a rags-to-riches story involving dragons and CIA analysts.
posted by Slap*Happy at 7:38 PM on August 3, 2009


So I take it I should read this Pynchon fellow, then?

Here's the problem: the people most qualified to answer - those who've read a lot of Pynchon - are probably speaking from a perspective of fandom. Those who haven't read any Pynchon simply don't know. Those (like me) who've read one Pynchon novel can't really tell whether that novel represented an outlier or the fat part of the Pynchon bell curve.

I read Gravity's Rainbow. I'd avoid that novel. Maybe the rest of his stuff is good, but I'm not going to beat myself up if I never read any of it.
posted by Ritchie at 7:52 PM on August 3, 2009 [1 favorite]


It's entirely possible this is Thomas Pynchon telling people to fuck off, he'll write what he damn well pleases. And if so, good for him.

Indeed. Is that not the core of artistic integrity?
posted by rodgerd at 8:06 PM on August 3, 2009


the people most qualified to answer - those who've read a lot of Pynchon - are probably speaking from a perspective of fandom.

I wouldn't consider myself a huge fan, but I have read a fair bit of Pynchon. I would suggest starting from V. and going from there. Neither Lot 49 or Gravity's Rainbow, which would be the two other books usually recommended to people new to Pynchon, would be great starting points; one is a little too slight, and the other too dense, IMO.
posted by Alvy Ampersand at 8:28 PM on August 3, 2009


Alvy Ampersand: I would suggest starting from V. and going from there. Neither Lot 49 or Gravity's Rainbow, which would be the two other books usually recommended to people new to Pynchon, would be great starting points; one is a little too slight, and the other too dense, IMO.

Well, I never much liked comic books, but I'll give it a go I guess.
posted by koeselitz at 9:16 PM on August 3, 2009


Well, I never much liked comic books, but I'll give it a go I guess.

?
posted by Alvy Ampersand at 9:35 PM on August 3, 2009


What's cool about crime novels is they have a plot.
posted by plexi at 9:44 PM on August 3, 2009


Well, I never much liked comic books, but I'll give it a go I guess.

?


koeselitz is mixing the Pynchon novel V with the graphic novel "V for Vendetta", and so is confused into thinking it is a comic book rather than a story about alien lizards invading the earth for our water.
posted by Justinian at 9:46 PM on August 3, 2009 [9 favorites]


I couldn't read all of these comments without having to say that I love Mefites. I'm on the right planet!
posted by queensissy at 10:35 PM on August 3, 2009


I've only read Vineland - two failed attempts, so far, at Gravity's Rainbow - but I would indeed suggest starting with it (Vineland). It was still a little difficult to get into, but I felt richer for the experience.

I think this new one might be my next Pynchon foray .... hooray!!
posted by mannequito at 10:39 PM on August 3, 2009


rokusan: The reason you find yourself losing your tack in the middle of Gravity's Rainbow is because the book's plot itself is shaped like a V2 rocket trajectory. By the time you reach the middle of the book, all the randomness and possibility have come together to weave themselves into a dense mat of paranoia and conspiracy theory. If you can make it through the most entangled parts, you'll find the threads slowly detangle themselves through the second half of the book.

However, if you've read the first half more than once, you've at least encountered the English Candy Drill, which may be one of the best sequences about peculiar sweets ever written.

Gin Marshmallows!
posted by hippybear at 11:10 PM on August 3, 2009


I've got Inherent Vice on pre-order, and I can't wait to crack into it. Pynchon's imagination is exceeded only by his vocabulary.

Louis Menand reviews the book, and discusses a bit o' Raymond Chandler along the way.
posted by rdone at 11:14 PM on August 3, 2009


Justinian: koeselitz is mixing the Pynchon novel V with the graphic novel "V for Vendetta", and so is confused into thinking it is a comic book rather than a story about alien lizards invading the earth for our water.

Whatever. Natalie Portman.
posted by koeselitz at 5:05 AM on August 4, 2009


Also, V doesn't actually stand for Vendetta. V stands for Vagina, not as in ‘8 miles wide’ (though that's a very inspiring tune) but as in ‘IF YOU HAVE SEX WITH AN ALIEN, YOUR VAGINA BECOMES A PORTAL TO HELL’.
posted by koeselitz at 5:15 AM on August 4, 2009


Pynchon has got to be the most widely misunderstood living novelist. The best thing you, the person who has read little or no Pynchon, could do for yourself is just to not have an opinion of him. Any opinion you do have will be based on what other people say about him, which mostly is bizarrely off base.

I've read all his books except Gravity's Rainbow, and one thing you can say for sure is that TP is a pretty uneven writer. Some are great classics, some are overrated but decent, and some are just pretty much bad. For whatever yet another opinion is worth, I think Mason & Dixon is the one Pynchon book everyone should read, if you were going to just read one.
posted by rusty at 5:42 AM on August 4, 2009 [2 favorites]


I've only read Crying Of Lot 49 I remember nested conspiracies and not a lot of laughs for a supposed comedy. One day I might attempt to tackle Gravity's Rainbow... because It's There. (see also War And Peace). But the thing about Pychon is that he seems better as a concept than the actuality - I don't think the actual books can ever beat the awesome documentary I saw about him in the 90s on the BBC where they tracked him down whislt exploring the novels. (ok they tracked down someone who had changed his name to Pychon's but is was still way cool)
posted by fearfulsymmetry at 6:21 AM on August 4, 2009


"You are one crazy white motherfucker." "How can you tell?" "I counted."

booyah
posted by Optimus Chyme at 6:31 AM on August 4, 2009


rusty: I think Mason & Dixon is the one Pynchon book everyone should read, if you were going to just read one.

Seriously this time—I will pick up a copy of Mason & Dixon today, then. I can handle 800 pages—long books? Not a big deal—and I'd like to really get at something essential about what he's trying to say as quickly as possible without missing anything.
posted by koeselitz at 6:33 AM on August 4, 2009


Since some seem to be inspired to try reading some Pynchon (yay!), I skimmed through the thread twice and am shocked to see that nobody has mentioned the Thomas Pynchon Wiki.

You see Pynchon isn't nearly as complicated as James Joyce, but it does help to have a few notes about the books, because there are a lot of references, even sometimes in the most innocuous-looking of sentences. The wiki will become your friend as you explore.

Particularly grand is the Spoiler Free Annotations, pages designed to allow you to look up the references while reading the book.
posted by hippybear at 7:12 AM on August 4, 2009


....clockwork.....ducks?
posted by EmpressCallipygos at 7:24 AM on August 4, 2009


I ... I mentioned the Thomas Pynchon wiki.

PS My Pynchon recommendation would be to start with Entropy the short story from his collection of short stories "Slow Learner."

I really enjoyed Against the Day, but I can concede that it is very uneven, similar in that sense to Balano's 2666. Gravity's Rainbow reeked of weed and an advanced Calculus textbook. His historical fiction, Against the Day, Mason & Dixon, seems to really be his high points. I read both using the wiki, I can't imagine reading Pynchon without a wiki.

Another reason I'd recommend Against the Day, the wonderful Chumps of Choice that breaks up the book into very manageable 10-20 page synopsis. The Television Without Pity type recap really helped me through some of the more impenetrable sections of the book. More than once I lost track of a character that had not appeared in 500 or so pages, or I read the synopsis and realized I completely missed the point of a particular passage.
posted by geoff. at 7:25 AM on August 4, 2009


geoff.: Oops. My bad. I did merely skim for the reference -- I'll be more thorough next time.
posted by hippybear at 7:41 AM on August 4, 2009


I expect nothing less!
posted by geoff. at 7:55 AM on August 4, 2009


Why do I always have to look up the word "palimpsest"? I'll never get to be a book reviewer.

Possibly not, but you'll have this cool collage of half-remembered, overlapping, and superimposed definitions of the word layered in your memory.
posted by aught at 8:02 AM on August 4, 2009


Look, Thomas fucking Pynchon writes a postmodern detective novel, you best sit straight up and listen!

He's Thomas fucking Pynchon!
posted by Afroblanco at 8:13 AM on August 4, 2009 [4 favorites]


I don't recall all this fuss when Michael Chabon wrote an alternate history/detective novel (which was damn good). Genres are a nice construct for sorting books in stores but by this time critics should really know better.
posted by Ber at 8:18 AM on August 4, 2009


Ber: I don't recall all this fuss when Michael Chabon wrote an alternate history/detective novel (which was damn good). Genres are a nice construct for sorting books in stores but by this time critics should really know better.

Pynchon has this weird strange scary reputation that provokes some people all out of proportion to his difficulty or literary quality, and it makes these types testy and prone to over-reaction. Particularly if he steps on their turf, as he did with science fiction fans with Gravity's Rainbow, and is apparently doing now with some detective lit fans.

Also, Pynchon is a faceless aloof recluse who has shunned contact with his readers for decades, while Chabon is a friendly, easy-going guy who you can easily Google and probably meet in person and chat with at a Barnes & Noble or college auditorium reading, and so Chabon is nowhere near as likely to agitate either cranks or critics with axes to grind.
posted by aught at 8:27 AM on August 4, 2009 [3 favorites]


My first Pynchon exposure was Vineland, which I found amazing in it's ability to throw out a million seemingly unrelated threads, and yet he managed to tie everything up, over a bare handful of pages near the end, into a coherent tapestry of storytelling. I worked on my copy of Gravity's Rainbow off and on for a year, before putting it down at the scene in the bathroom. A year later, I'm watching the exact same scene in Trainspotting, and realize I have to finish the book to see what else someone has 'borrowed' from pynchon.

I made it up to about 80% thru before I lost my copy during a move, and have yet to replace it, so I can finish, but fully intend to. I too have a copy of Mason & Dixon haunting me, but I can now blame not reading it on the lack of kindle support in the paper copy, and not my own intimidation. yeah.
posted by nomisxid at 8:39 AM on August 4, 2009


just thinking "he's thomas fucking pynchon, he can write a bodice ripper if he wants" and then I thought 'how cool would that be??? a bodice ripper written by pynchon???????'
posted by supermedusa at 9:05 AM on August 4, 2009 [1 favorite]


Ber: "I don't recall all this fuss when Michael Chabon wrote an alternate history/detective novel (which was damn good). Genres are a nice construct for sorting books in stores but by this time critics should really know better."

I was thinking this, too. Then I figured it might have something to do with Pynchon's reputation for obscurity and obfuscation. Chabon's writing is famously intertwined with genre lit, but so is Pynchon's. But Pynchon's writing can be so difficult, obscure and opaque that in many people's minds it stops being thought of as genre. that science fiction (as only one example) has a long tradition of involving difficult and obfuscated styles isn't remembered, but Joyce's Ulysses is, so I think people often think of work that stylistically experimental as being more literate than genre. chabon, on the other hand, is always pretty easy to follow and has repeatedly and often gone into great detail about his love for genre fiction and writers. so suddenly it's no great shakes when he writes about alternative universe Hasidic gangsters. but with Pynchon, I suspect everyone starts saying to themselves "waitwaitwait. I thought you needed a degree to understand Pynchon! you're telling me anyone can appreciate this story? well what'd I get the degree for?! fuck that."
posted by shmegegge at 9:11 AM on August 4, 2009 [1 favorite]


I like Pynchon, love crime fiction and am intrigued by critical comparisons between Inherent Vice and The Big Lebowski (and there a ton of 'em).
posted by box at 9:18 AM on August 4, 2009 [1 favorite]


Ummmm...Supermedusa.....M&D has bodice ripping aplenty...and it's hilarious because it's so literal and over the top.

I kinda liken TP to the Coen brothers. Each likes to dabble in a variety of genres, with a bit of zaniness, a caper or two, lots of weed thrown in, but almost always to great effect.
posted by OHenryPacey at 9:55 AM on August 4, 2009 [1 favorite]


the book's plot itself is shaped like a V2 rocket trajectory.

Hah, I knew it! I've been crawling through GR two or three pages at a time, without the help of any of the annotated-wiki-Pynchon-for-Dummies guides (it seems like cheating, somehow). When I reached a certain point around the middle, I had the weird feeling that that's what had just happened in the plot, and sure enough after checking I found I was pretty much exactly halfway through. One of the more rewarding 'A-HA!' moments in the book, so far.
posted by FatherDagon at 11:08 AM on August 4, 2009


Besides, the other postmodern detective stories I can think of -- Motherless Brooklyn and the New York Trilogy -- were both awesome and excellent in their own weird ways. I'm curious to see what Pynchon does with this bizarre mini-genre.
posted by Afroblanco at 11:09 AM on August 4, 2009


I have to totally second Motherless Brooklyn as awesome and excellent. I can't imagine another book I've read which has so completely enveloped me inside the brain of someone with whom I have very few points in common.
posted by hippybear at 2:22 PM on August 4, 2009


OHP, you shame me publicly. I am a die-hard Pynchon fan but I have yet to make it more than 100 pages into M&D...however, now that I know there is bodice-ripping I may be inspired to give it another whirl!!
posted by supermedusa at 4:51 PM on August 4, 2009


"I don't recall all this fuss when Michael Chabon wrote an alternate history/detective novel (which was damn good). Genres are a nice construct for sorting books in stores but by this time critics should really know better."

Really? I totally remember a lot of condescending "it's genre fiction that's OK to read!" bullshit.
posted by klangklangston at 11:21 PM on August 4, 2009 [2 favorites]


As do I, klang.
posted by brundlefly at 3:36 PM on August 5, 2009


His historical fiction

With the possible exception of The Crying of Lot 49, all of Pynchon's novels are historical fiction, and I don't mean that to be cute. They are deliberately set in non-contemporary periods, have tons of scrupulously researched period detail, and center around the meaning of those time periods and what they've done to us as people.
posted by Lentrohamsanin at 6:33 AM on August 6, 2009 [2 favorites]


About 100 pages in. Really enjoying it, definitely both Pynchon and post-modern. Junkies who OD to only reappear crashing at their former band's place as a hanger-on (they don't recognize him because they share a case of a stoner's haze when it comes to remembering). If anything it is a love song to 70s LA surfer culture. It really makes me want to throw everything away, stuff my pockets full of weed and head to the beach, surf and smoking all day. I mean not really.

Here's a great video promoting Inherent Vice narrated by Pynchon himself! When was the last time Pynchon did any sort of promotion for a book?
posted by geoff. at 5:13 PM on August 9, 2009


Here's a great video promoting Inherent Vice narrated by Pynchon himself!

Hmm think there's still some doubt around that?

posted by fearfulsymmetry at 3:33 AM on August 10, 2009


I'd say with 95% certainty that it is Pynchon. Look he also released a playlist to accompany the book:

Have a listen to some of the songs you'll hear in Inherent Vice—the playlist that follows is designed exclusively for Amazon.com, courtesy of Thomas Pynchon.

He's having way too much fun with this book.
posted by geoff. at 8:56 AM on August 12, 2009


Bad verse, multiple costumes/disguises, punny acronyms? Classic Pynchon so far. Enjoying it immensely...

I worked on my copy of Gravity's Rainbow off and on for a year, before putting it down at the scene in the bathroom.

You know he's not really in a Roxbury bathroom, chasing a mouth harp down the toilet, right? He's at "The White Visitation" on drugs.
posted by mrgrimm at 4:57 PM on August 14, 2009 [2 favorites]


Just finished it. Great stuff. I don't think fans will be disappointed. In fact, I think I'm gonna read it again. If I finish in time, I'll post a quick review.

Perhaps most relevant to this crew, IV is Pynchon's first Internet novel.
posted by mrgrimm at 6:47 PM on August 22, 2009


Picking up my copy at the library tonight.

Here is Pynchon's playlist for the book linked to youtube instead of Amazon.
posted by readery at 12:22 PM on August 24, 2009 [2 favorites]


Righteous. Thanks, readery. I wish I had that soundtrack for my first time through.

I'm reading it again, and (although you can't miss it the first time either), it's clearly evident how much this book is about Charlie, and how the hippies and the Beach Boys became the Manson Family (and eventually Marilyn Manson). Up until Charlie, the straights saw the hippies as harmless stoners. Post-Charlie, they need to be crushed, and Nixon's got the will and the cash to do it.

Flash forward 39 years ... spare a little acid, brother?
posted by mrgrimm at 11:23 AM on August 26, 2009


Great ending to Inherent Vice. I can't wait until some analysis comes out, picking up the parts I missed. Though I did notice on the Amazon playlist:

Theme Song from "The Big Valley" performed by Beer

Nice. (And Pynchon introduced me to this wonderful creature known as The Bonzo Dog Band!)
posted by geoff. at 6:57 PM on August 26, 2009


Oooh, just in before the post cutoff...

I agree. Great ending. Interestingly enough, the novel ends on TP's 33rd birthday, May 8, 1970. Such an autobiographical novel. And Doc is certainly the most heroic major character in any Pynchon novel.

I just finished the second time and might read it once more while adding some page annotations to the IV Wiki.

I think the criticisms of "pynchon lite" and dissatisfied fans might be due to the length. Even though it's 369 pages, reading it twice still took much less time than reading 760 pages of Gravity's Rainbow.

If I had read it once and stopped, I might have been a little disappointed too. Reading it twice (something I never do with books) let me get into the book for a few weeks, something that other Pynchon fans probably like to do as well.

I just read Walter Kirn's review in the NYT. It's pretty good.

(I'm reading Nobody Move by Denis Johnson right now, and it's another take on true crime/organized crime but so, so different. A great little palate cleanser.)
posted by mrgrimm at 12:53 PM on September 3, 2009


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