Cannonball Read V: Inherent Vice by Thomas Pynchon
Doc did half a line in either nostril, just to be sociable, but somehow could not shake the impression that all was not as innocent here as it looked. He had been in a dentist’s office or two, and there was a distinctive smell and a set of vibes that were absent here as room echoes, which he’s also been wondering about. Like something else was going on - something … not groovy.
Larry “Doc” Sportello is a private investigator working in LA in 1969-1970. Not unusual for that era, he likes to do drugs. His ex-girlfriend Shasta Fey asks him for help regarding her new millionaire boyfriend Mickey Wolfmann. At the same time, Tariq Khalil asks him to find Glen Charlock, who is Mickey’s bodyguard, as he owes Tariq money. When Doc starts investigating, he is knocked unconscious in one of Mickey’s establishments. After he comes to, he is informed by his nemesis detective Christian “Bigfoot” Bjornsen that Glen had been murdered and Mickey has disappeared. Doc in all his haziness has to resolve the murder and disappearance mystery.
The quoted passage essentially sums up Inherent Vice.The storyline makes it seem like a typical noir, but the fact that the main character and most of the side characters are potheads and other assorted drug users, distinguishes it from your typical detective novel. The main character is very likeable, as are most of his friends and even some of his foes. Most of the times, the little side plots steal the book, and are at times even more entertaining than the main plot.
As far as mysteries go, the main plot is very interesting and watching it unfold is very entertaining. Given the fact that the narrator, Doc, is a pothead, the writing style can be both amusing and at times frustrating and confusing. There will be a section with a certain character, and after the break we are suddenly transported to a completely different place in the middle of action. While this is a great way to get in the skin of a pothead, it can be quite annoying to read. There are also a lot of song lyrics included in the novel, as in entire songs, which sometimes relate to what is going on, and at other times are completely random.
What the book does not lack is great one liners and great dialogue between different characters, which are mostly high. Reading the delusional and most of the times paranoid banter is very well done and incredibly amusing. The novel is also full of 60s slang, like groovy and far-out, which work well to transport you to the era in which it is set.
I have to admit I only started reading this because I had heard that Paul Thomas Anderson was making a film adaptation starring Joaquin Phoenix. Beforehand I had not heard of Thomas Pynchon, nor have I read any of his books. Truthfully, this will probably make a slightly better movie than the book, especially with PTA at the helm.
“Hey, like Godzilla always sez to Mothra - why don’t we go eat some place?”
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