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Inherent Vice: It’s All about the Lagan, Dude…

Posted on : 27-08-2009 | By : Dean | In : Book Reviews

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Inherent VicePynchon’s latest novel probably got as much press for its unpynchonesque brevity (it clocks in at under 400 pages) as anything else. Considering that Against the Day and Mason & Dixon are nearly 2,000 pages combined, I guess it’s worth a nod that his latest is easily manageable in a week for even a casual reader. And the fact that it is manageable is nearly as unpynchonesque as its length. Yes, there is a wiki for those who can’t keep the characters or plot straight, but Inherent Vice really is Pynchon Lite.

The book even comes with the added novelty of a youtube ad, narrated by Pynchon himself:

That’s not to say that Pynchon fans won’t recognize the staples of his writing in this book. There are plenty of sub plots to get lost in, bizarre character names (Trevor McNutley, Petunia Leeway and Arthur Tweedle come readily to mind), and there’s enough paranoia to make even non-junkies wonder whether they are being watched while they read.

But the most interesting bits of the novel aren’t in it’s novelty, whether typically Pynchon or not.

The real treasure of Inherent Vice lies beneath the typical stuff. Think of it like the lagan that Sauncho discusses with Doc, early on in the novel, the buried treasure that is sunk to be rediscovered. Of course this is a Pynchon novel, so the value of the treasure is less treasure than trash (millions in currency with Nixon’s face it, essentially worthless). But the quest for lagan permeates the novel. It is an act that is at the core of the mystery of the Golden Fang and the sunken city of Lemuria; it’s what Doc does for a living as a PI, on the most basic level; it’s what he does as a stoner (doper’s memory, maan); and on the meta-level, it’s what the reader does with the book. And when Doc insists again and again to the LAPD, the Feds and other “straights”  that they aren’t so different, he’s revealing more than hippie stoner nonsense. He’s making the connection between these characters and the reader clear in their very nature. This, like Hebert Stencil in V., is what they do. It’s what we do.

And the inherent quality points back to not only the epigraph (“under the paving stones, the beach!”), but the title of the novel itself.

One of the great mainstream criticisms of Pynchon’s work is that with all it’s required effort (often to realize some simple pun or that the meaning is that there is no meaning), isn’t worth it. Perhaps the greatest virtue of Inherent Vice is that it’s one of those deceptively easy little books (about as easy as it gets for Pynchon, at least), and I think it’s well worth the effort.

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