Either Thomas Pynchon was high the entire time he was writing Inherent Vice, or he is an incredibly talented inhabitant of his characters’ lives. It’s the mind trip, “groovy”, drug-fuelled and dangerous adventures of Larry “Doc” Sportello, a private eye. The constantly tripping narration is intense, and just as you get into the fuzzy mood of it all, some classic cops ‘n’ robbers moments come in. Chapters of vague dragging your feet, paragraphs of life and death shoot outs, that’s the way Doc’s life goes.
It is a dark, sickly comic tale. Doc is asked by an ex-girlfriend to investigate the case of a missing land developer, and quickly spins out into a conspiracy case of international drug running, murder and corruption with a touch of apocalyptic paranoia. Of course, none of this is really that clear as the themes of drug culture and counterculture take a prominent position in the story-telling, clouding it all up.
Apparently this is one of Pynchon’s more accessible novels, which I find astonishing to learn. The dialogue and narration can be exhausting: it is incredibly confusing, switching opaquely between reality and hallucination, filled with inaccessible drops of Spanish or 70s slang, racing through time after meditating for an age on the conversation with a print of Thomas Jefferson because Doc has blacked out again. None of it is really clear because Doc is a classic unreliable narrator, bumbling through the story-telling as he bumbles through his life. This is ok, I suppose, but means it takes a certain amount of patience to keep pace with where he is at.
“‘Just be advised, boys…you’ll want to watch your step, ’cause what I am is, is like a small-diameter pearl of the Orient rolling around on the floor of late capitalism – lowlifes of all income levels may step on me now and then but if they do it’ll be them who slip and fall and on a good day break their ass, while the ol’ pearl herself just goes a-rollin on.'”
And as a side note, if I never have to read “Groovy.” as a valid response in dialogue again, I will die happy. Did people seriously say it that much whilst high in California in the 1970s? It’s exhausting.
That said, in all this novel is a pretty decent ride, albeit clunky. Pynchon’s inhabitance of Doc’s drugged-up narration is difficult to keep track of, but pitch perfect for the times. There is some good murder mystery going on here, and it’s a wild trip from the surfers to the rock ‘n roll scene to Las Vegas to classic cop corruption and back again.