Inherent Vice

Time Out Ratings :

<strong>Rating: </strong>4/5

From Thomas Pynchon, an author we expect to take decadelong breaks, now emerges his second novel in three years. The pace does him good: Inherent Vice, besides being the literary giant’s most accessible work, is the kind of confident, relaxed effort that might signal a golden age ahead. Pynchon has produced a pungently stoned SoCal detective mystery, as laid-back as its hero, Larry “Doc” Sportello, a joint-toking, beach-town--dwelling private investigator with a strong suspicion that his psychedelic ’60s are ending.

And they are. It’s spring of 1970, and Pynchon’s hazy Los Angeles, as vivid a locale as any he’s described, is wracked with paranoia, a combo of Nixon-funded police fascism and surf-band diffidence. (One glorious rant from Doc’s lawyer friend, Sauncho Smilax, connects Charles Manson, the Vietcong and StarKist Tuna’s animated pitchman, “also named Charlie!”) Inherent Vice is no mere nostalgia trip, though. Leaning into a modern idiom, the author taps into the same cheeky cinematic vein as The Big Lebowski—Doc lackadaisically pursuing a wealthy land developer and a wayward blond ex-girlfriend—along with, more ringingly, Robert Altman’s 1973 The Long Goodbye.

Quickly, the novel grabs you in a sexier way than anything since The Crying of Lot 49, but with its familiar post-Chinatown structure (and an inevitable doozy of a conspiracy) comes an undeniable lightness. Heroin deals and loan sharks come as an underwhelming conclusion from a book that intimates a deeper social indictment; the heaviest it gets here is a Palo Verdes community dad leaning in and insisting to Doc, “We’re in place.” Still, the welcome vibe of the novel has the feeling of cruising around suburbs on a warm night; it may become an L.A. classic.—Joshua Rothkopf

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By Thomas Pynchon. Penguin, $27.95.