WRITER Philip Watts
Thomas Pynchon has always had a thing about paranoia – real and imagined, political and historical. His novels are hailed as heavyweight masterpieces; Gravity’s Rainbow, V, The Crying of Lot 49 all blend time, narration and high and low culture into a heady mix of complex ideas and dense plot. So it was somewhat of a surprise when the lighthearted, stoner detective yarn Inherent Vice arrived on bookshop shelves in 2009. While christened and criticized by some as “Pynchon Lite,” the book itself is a funny and, in many ways, clever take on the themes and ideas of Pynchon’s prior work, only this time wrapped up in a good-humoured and at times chaotic private detective noir. Inherent Vice is set in Los Angeles in the early 1970s, around the time of Sharon Tate’s murder at the hands of the Manson family, and the event is frequently referenced and discussed by characters throughout the novel. Set in motion by a late night visit from his ex-girlfriend Shasta Fay, the story follows the pot smoking “gumsandal” Doc Sportello. He begins to unravel a series of mysteries involving a missing real estate tycoon, counterfeit money, an Indochinese drug cartel, government spies and a corrupt and dangerous LAPD. There’s sex here, an abundance of dope smoking and lsd taking, and a varied and colourful cast of characters, that turn up unexpectedly and confusingly in a blur of smoke and substance abuse. This ensemble frequently converges throughout various strung-out plot lines, making for an enjoyable read and an excellent and accessible introduction to the complex Pynchon universe. I’d read it quickly too; Paul Thomas Anderson is currently adapting the book for the silver screen, and you’ll want to have an opinion when the inevitable comparisons between film and source begin to be made.