Monday, December 1st, 2014

Inherent Vice
Inherent Vice by Thomas Pynchon
My rating: 2 of 5 stars

I normally read books about spaceships or dragons (or that rare gem about spaceships and dragons). This book has neither so it is somewhat far afield from my more typical fare. Still, SF/F isn’t all I read so I feel I was able to give this a fair shot. Unfortunately, even accounting for the lack of the fantastical, I found this one wanting.

Truthfully, I am even less the target audience than I originally thought: though I have my vices, marijuana has never been one of them. So I find Doc’s (that would be the main character) reflexive lighting of a join as his default reaction to any situation to be a bit off-putting. Recreational drug use is all well and good but having it be your only answer for “I want to have sex”, “I just had sex”, “I almost killed a guy”, “A guy almost killed me”, “I have to talk to a guy”, “I can’t talk to a guy”, and so on just becomes monotonous. It just seems so unnecessary. But maybe that’s accurate for stoner culture. Perhaps it adds verisimilitude. I wouldn’t know.

What I do know is that all of the drug use made the book significantly longer than it needed to be. If it’s not the loving descriptions of drug rituals or specific trips, it’s the confusing and meandering dialog driven by all the characters always being too high to readily understand one another. It very quickly stops being whimsical and starts feeling tediously unnecessary.

And then there’s all. the. sex. I was born well after “free love” turned into “Oh my God! Look at all these STDs!” so it could just be my lack of perspective on the times, but it strikes me as ludicrous that such an astoundingly unaccomplished man could walk into almost any room and then instantly have one or more women dropping their miniskirts (and it’s *always* a miniskirt) in his general direction. From the tail-end of 2014, this seems more like somewhat-disturbing wish-fulfillment on the part of the author than anything that could provide meaning to the narrative. It doesn’t really drive the story and, though it it might be providing some amount of color for the characters and their setting, quickly becomes farcical and unnecessary.

Doc himself is less of an anti-hero and more of a non-hero. As a PI, he’s working cases but not really solving them. When he finds a missing person, it turns out they’ve already gone home by the time he lays eyes on them. When he figures something out, it turns out to be completely unactionable. When he finally confronts a villain, it’s because a different character shoved him in that direction and Doc just happened to wander out of his hazy pot cloud at mostly the right time.

At the end of the book, things have pretty much arranged themselves for (slightly) better with pretty much no help from Doc. If there was a larger literary point to Doc’s shaky and mostly inconsequential voyage through the plot, it escaped me and I found even Doc to be unnecessary.

You may have noticed the theme of this review: I found the book to be largely unnecessary. It wasn’t bad exactly; just unenjoyable and unedifying. It was like watching someone else watch a movie (or maybe it was like watching someone else get high).

The chief highlight was the humor. In places, the drug-twisted dialog was almost Douglas Adams-esque (which is high praise). But these moments were too few and too far between to allow me to recommend this book or to feel particularly glad that I read it.

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