Inherent Vice Reviews

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The Complete Review


Please add any relevant reviews as they come in. Blog reviews are fine as long as they're substantial and more than a few paragraphs.

08/06/09 - Washington Post Michael Dirda: "These majestic works are more than worth the effort, but they aren't what most people would call page-turners or comfort books. Which is just what "Inherent Vice" is. Imagine the cult film "The Big Lebowski" as a novel, with touches of "Chinatown" and "L.A. Confidential" thrown in for good measure. Imagine your favorite Raymond Chandler or James Crumley mystery retold as a hippie whodunit, set in Gordita Beach, Calif., at the very end of the 1960s. Imagine a great American novelist, one who is now a septuagenarian, writing with all the vivacity and bounce of a young man who has just discovered girls. Most of all, imagine sentences and scenes that are so much fun to read that you wish "Inherent Vice" were twice as long as it is. Imagine saying that about a Thomas Pynchon novel. " Entire review »

08/09 - Bright Lights Film Journal John Carvill: "Think of it this way: if Gravity's Rainbow resembles a week-long acid binge, Inherent Vice is more like a single, perfectly rolled joint. On almost every page, there is something truly remarkable; again and again, Pynchon throws out an unexpected turn of phrase, a perfectly pitched joke, or a dazzlingly beautiful image. Each one of these takes root in your mind, where they ripen and bloom like kernels of psychedelic popcorn. You finish Inherent Vice and your first instinct is to flip back to the start and enjoy it all over again. It brings to mind what Oscar Wilde said in praise of one of his favourite vices, the cigarette: "A cigarette is the perfect type of a perfect pleasure. It is exquisite, and it leaves one unsatisfied. What more can one want?" " Entire review »

08/04/09 - Slate Jonathan Rosenbaum: "In this lively yarn, Thomas Pynchon, working in an unaccustomed genre, provides a classic illustration of the principle that if you can remember the sixties, you weren't there … or … if you were there, then you … or, wait, is it …" Once again, for his seventh novel, Inherent Vice, it sounds as if the author has furnished his own jacket copy, exploiting the doper humor that's often been part of his signature." Entire review »

08/03/09 - The New York Times - Michiko Kakutani: "If “Vineland” read like a user-friendly companion piece to “The Crying of Lot 49,” then “Inherent Vice” reads like a workmanlike improvisation on “Vineland.” Once again the plot is propelled by a search for a missing woman, a former hippie who consorted with an incongruous representative of the capitalistic power grid. And once again there are efforts by the powers-that-be to turn hippies and potheads to the dark side, to turn them into informants through re-education programs or the enticement of money." Entire review »

08/03/09 - The New Yorker - Louis Menand: "Pynchon’s capacity for goofball invention is limitless. A list of characters’ names, drastically abridged, might be enough to suggest the variety, and also the relative fineness, of the narrative texture: Ensenada Slim, Flaco the Bad, Dr. Buddy Tubeside, Petunia Leeway, Jason Velveeta, Scott Oof, Sledge Poteet, Leonard Jermaine Loosemeat (a.k.a. El Drano, anagram of Leonard), Delwyn Quight, and Trillium Fortnight. Not overly fine, in other words. Plotwise, there are probably too many pieces of the puzzle to hold in your head, and it’s not completely clear where, or whether, every piece fits. But that, too, is standard business procedure in the form. Despite Chandler’s demand for greater realism, his own plots could be pretty far-fetched, and they’re not always coherent, either. When Howard Hawks was shooting the film adaptation of “The Big Sleep,” he got in touch with Chandler to ask who was supposed to have killed one of the characters, a chauffeur. Chandler was embarrassed to say he didn’t know." Entire review »

08/03/09 - The Buffalo News - Jeff Simon: "Lest anyone think “Inherent Vice” isn’t deeply Pynchonesque from its opening sentence (“She came along the alley and up the back steps the way she always used to”), you’ll be immediately disabused of that notion by going back to his amazing first novel “V.,” whose protagonist Benny Profane “schlemiel and human yo-yo” is clearly an East Coast forerunner of “Inherent Vice’s” Doc Sportello. Pynchon’s new protagonist is a short, 1970 hippie and private eye who lives near “Gordita” (read Manhattan) beach in L. A. (shades of Jim Rockford and Harry Orwell), has long hair, smokes every joint he can lay lips on and has no trouble doing a few lines of coke, too, just to be sociable." Entire review »

08/02/09 - New York Magazine - Sam Anderson: "Pynchon has always been a cartoonist: He specializes in simplification, exaggeration, and brightly colored types. This means that, paradoxically, his wildest invention occurs right at the edge of cliché. He may have finally fallen over that edge. His types, after 45 years, have themselves become types. The characters in Inherent Vice are not only paranoid, they walk around constantly talking about their paranoia. Aside from the dopily lovable Doc, everyone is just the standard tangle of phonemes attached to a Pynchonesque hobbyhorse: computers, threesomes, chocolate-covered frozen bananas. Switch those hobbyhorses around and you don’t lose much." Entire review »

08/02/09 -BlogCritics - Ted Gioia: "The small details are half the fun here. For no extra charge, the reader is given a new interpretation of the Japanese movie Ghidrah, The Three-Headed Monster (1964) which explicates it as a reworking of Roman Holiday (1953) — full disclosure: I still can't decide whether Ghidrah is supposed to be Audrey Hepburn or Gregory Peck. We find Henry Kissinger on the Today show, formulating foreign policy: "Vell, den, ve schould chust bombp dem, schouldn't ve?" We learn about a Beverly Hills auto collision repair shop called The Resurrection of the Body. And we find a health food joint off Melrose called The Price of Wisdom, which is located upstairs from Ruby's Lounge — but you will need to check out Job 28:18 to figure that one out." Entire review »

08/02/09 -Los Angeles Times - Carolyn Kellogg: "Still, after getting pretty far out, "Inherent Vice" eventually circles back and ties up all its loose ends. It has a climactic moment, a cushiony denouement -- by gum, closure. If this stands in counterpoint to Pynchon's most acclaimed work, perhaps we should pay heed to the novel's title: "Inherent Vice" refers to a hidden defect that undermines a property's worth, a marine-legal term for a Shakespearean flaw. It could refer to Los Angeles; it could refer to the 1960s. Or it could refer to the author's work itself: With Pynchon's brilliance comes readability." Entire review »

08/02/09 -The Boston Globe - Richard Eder: "The hopes are recalled, reconstituted, and chastened in “Inherent Vice’’ and so are the ’70s shadows that overtook them. As for the beach, in California, it is restricted in some places, turned tawdry in others; though with beauty enough along large stretches, surfboarding still, and lots of bicycling." Entire review »

08/02/09 - Alex Good: "Inherent Vice is also nostalgic in that it takes us back to earlier Pynchon: the tangled intersection of politics, technology, and paranoia, a landscape of secret societies (here it's the Golden Fang or Chryskylodon) and submerged continents. Of course, there's lots of sinister slapstick involving perversely unmusical song lyrics and a bewildering cast of characters with such silly names as Sauncho Smilax, Bigfoot Bjornsen, Japonica Fenway, Special FBI Agents Flatweed and Borderline and sexy stewardesses Motella and Lourdes." Entire review »

08/01/09 -Chicago Tribune - Art Winslow: "We find ourselves on a cultural tour that is alien and not. The real and fictional points of interest include the Aryan Brotherhood, a right-wing paramilitary auxiliary to the police department, groups such as the Bong Users' Revolutionary Brigades and Warriors Against the Black Man Armed Militia, heroin traffickers, ARPAnet (a precursor of the Internet), FBI agents named Fleetwood and Borderline, U.S. currency with Nixon's face on it, Chick Planet Massage, lost continents, zombie flicks, surf-music bands, Wyatt Earp's mug with its mustache protector, Dagwood and Yosemite Sam, and period television shows from "The Flying Nun" and "Adam-12" to "Dark Shadows" and "Gilligan's Island." Sex, drugs and rock 'n' roll abound." Entire review »

08/01/09 -Time Magazine - Richard Lacayo: "And speaking of Leonard, Inherent Vice is like nothing so much as an Elmore Leonard novel with metaphysical aims. It has the same deadpan dialogue, the same lowlife panache, the same Venice Beach–to–Vegas locales that Leonard has touched down in. But the earthbound author of Get Shorty doesn't go in for Pynchon's lyrical riffs about the immemorial forces that pull the world's secret levers and keep the dispossessed of all kinds — the poor, the nonwhite, the nonconforming — from coming into their own." Entire review »

07/31/09 -BBC - Paul Mason: "Said observed that the late style artist typically "abandons communication with the established social order of which he is a part and achieves a contradictory, alienated relationship with it". But Pynchon doesn't need to: he achieved that long ago. This late turn in his literary style achieves something opposite but equally surprising. It is a move towards form, and closed form at that, towards genre, and towards communication. And it is a move away from subtext." Entire review »

07/31/09 -CounterPunch - Alan Cabal: "It’s a hugely comic novel that ends on a wistful, tragic note lost in the fog, out on the freeway, the procession of the preterite, not sure where they’re going, not sure where they are. It’s a love letter to the Sixties, a wake, an elegy to doomed aspirations and thwarted idealism, but it speaks to our present condition directly and clearly, with an open heart. Nobody does it better." Entire review »

07/31/09 -The Independent (UK) - Andy Martin: "Inherent Vice is Pynchon's hymn to the Sixties, both homage and lament. In the novel we are at the end of the long Sixties, when the Manson gang have already sliced up Sharon Tate, the US military is still napalming Vietnam, and the West Coast counter-culture is suffering from an immense post-coital depression and hangover." Entire review »

07/30/09 -OregonLive - Vernon Peterson: "But something more serious is the underlying theme of "Inherent Vice." Southern California, America's leading edge and symbol, is not a promise of paradise gone sour. This Eden had a fatal flaw from the beginning. Real estate, a persistent theme in Pynchon's American stories, "Against the Day," "Mason & Dixon," "Vineland" and "The Crying of Lot 49," is the herald of New World doom. The empire has been built on the graves of Native Americans, dispossessed and nearly annihilated from one coast to the other." Entire review »

07/30/09 -New Statesman - David Flusfeder: "The tropes of the hard-boiled genre are here: a detective with a half-mended heart and a propensity to be beaten unconscious at crime scenes; a quest to track the missing; a rich folks' nuthouse; the corrupt LAPD. But whereas Chandler once admitted that whenever he didn't know how to advance his plot, he'd have a man walk through a doorway holding a gun, Pynchon just has his detective fire up another joint. It is in the moments away from the stoned haze of plot that this book is at its best. The sentences have their stately beauty, and Pynchon is poignantly good on the heartsick detective, his "lovelorn rectogenital throb"." Entire review »

07/29/09 - - Alan Chadwick: "Best of all, however, is the way Pynchon maps the psycho-geography and shifting sociopolitical sands of America at the time (drugs; the widening gulf between 'straight life' and counterculture; paranoia; and secret information)." Entire review »

07/28/09 - The Stranger - Paul Constant: "Beneath it all, surfacing sporadically like a cheap serial villain, is the nascent internet, which in the late '60s was called the ARPAnet. One of Doc's friends introduces him to the prototypical World Wide Web, and he increasingly relies on it for information. He wonders why "they"—the men he's positive rule the world from a smoke-filled room—don't make it illegal, the way "they" criminalized acid. Pynchon, doing some of the nimblest, most whimsical work of his career, doesn't provide the answer to that mystery, or many of the mysteries in Vice for that matter, but he shares his infectious excitement about living in a world full of useless, beautiful ideas. For Pynchon, it's not the truth but the search for the truth that matters." Entire review »

07/28/09 - The Boston Phoenix - Peter Keough: "So it's a long way around the block for little reward. And though it's true that Pynchon never pays off in terms of closure or neatly resolved meaning (that being the point), in Inherent Vice, ambiguity deteriorates into inanity. He's either trying too hard or not hard enough. Okay, you could scarcely expect another densely woven, absurdist masterpiece so soon after 2006's magnum opus, Against the Day, which at nearly 1100 pages weighed in as Pynchon's heaviest tome to date. Then again, Lot 49 came out only three years after his groundbreaking debut, V." Entire review »

07/27/09 - | Creative Loafing - Cooper Levey-Baker: "But despite its uncharacteristic focus and brevity, it’s clear from sentence structure alone that Inherent Vice could have only sprung from the pen of Thomas Pynchon. One early sentence describing an LA dry spell goes like this: “In the little apartment complexes the wind entered narrowing to whistle through the stairwells and ramps and catwalks, and the leaves of the palm trees outside rattled together with a liquid sound, so that from inside, in the darkened rooms, in louvered light, it sounded like a rainstorm, the wind raging in the concrete geometry, the palms beating together like the rush of a tropical downpour, enough to get you to open the door and look outside, and of course there’d only be the same hot cloudless depth of day, no rain in sight." Entire review »

07/26/09 - | TheObserver - Sarah Churchwell: "Like many a Pynchon protagonist before him, Sportello is on a doomed quest. Pynchon's novels are always more or less picaresque journeys; his characters travel perpetually, but rarely arrive anywhere meaningful. What Gravity's Rainbow calls "the terrible politics of the Grail" means that quests in Pynchon are inevitable and also inevitable failures. At best, they will be mock-heroic; at worst, they will be tragic, but they will never succeed. Inherent Vice may be Pynchon's most overtly nostalgic book, featuring a character overcome by a longing he pretends to shrug off." Entire review »

07/24/09 - - Tim Martin: "Unlike much of Pynchon’s other work, however, Inherent Vice wears its learning lightly, intermixing it with dialogue that zings, jokes that never overstay their welcome and a stream of hilariously bad puns and wickedly acute observations. Who would have thought it? One of America’s most wilful and obscure writers has produced the most enjoyable beach read of the summer." Entire review »

07/06/09 - Publishers Weekly - David Kipen: "Pynchon sets his new novel in and around Gordita Beach, a mythical surfside paradise named for all the things his PI hero, Larry “Doc” Sportello, loves best: nonnutritious foods, healthy babies, curvaceous femme fatales. We’re in early-’70s Southern California, so Gordita Beach inevitably suggests a kind of Fat City, too, ripe for the plundering of rapacious real estate combines and ideal for Pynchon’s recurring tragicomedy of America as the perfect wave that got away." Entire review »

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