Saturday, August 1, 2009

Weekend Squish: A Squishing Comes Across the Sky.

Days without Job: 122

Days Without New Pynchon Novel: -3

In this newly job-less 'slacker's' version of heaven, the required beach read is Thomas Pynchon. So the news, late last year, of an new TP novel, Inherent Vice, out August 4, is welcomed. The unusually quick turn-around, three years - with 10 not unusual for Pynchon, 13 the longest- makes me all squishy inside.The fact that it's a Noir detective story, unusually light at 369 pp. compared to his last monster (Against The Day, 1000+), is intriguing.

The first reviews have been trickling out.Now they have reached flood stage. They tend to fall into three distinct categories: outraged screed; jaded, knowing intro for newbies; and thematic speculations.

The first, a hallmark of his Gravity's Rainbow era, is now rare, though you can usually count on some curmudgeon at Slate or wherever to trot one out at some point. That 1974 blank spot in the list of Pulitzer Prizes for Literature is the legacy of this mindset. The second is now standard, and this one typifies the genre:
bemused listing of Pynchon tropes; disclaimer about the rather nonchalant plots; toss in a snarky comment about the character names; and you're done. Mail it in.

The third, my favorite, links the subject novel with his others in terms of Pyncho
n's ongoing thematic obsessions, but without the jargon that tends to choke the academic journals clustered around our era's pre-eminent Post-Modernist writer. These are the most useful to those trying to enjoy or understand the cult surrounding him, and Sarah Churchwell, in the Observer, provides a nice overview:

"The book’s title provides Pynchon with a new metaphor for three of his oldest preoccupations: entropy, capitalism and religion, specifically Puritanism. For insurers and preservationists, “inherent vice” describes the innate tendency of precious objects to deteriorate and refers to the limits of insurability and conservation; it suggests that matter (and thus, by extension, materialism) carries within it the seeds of its own destruction."

But since this is a Noir novel (of sorts), another kind of review has joined the fray, basically asking the question "Is it Noir?" And since the gumshoe genre is one of my favorites, I had to read "Death Becomes Them", an exploration of literary giants trying out Noir in Newsweek, by Malcolm Jones:

"No one will ever accuse Pynchon of wearing his feelings on his sleeve, but in Inherent Vice there's no mistaking his affection for his private detective, Larry (Doc) Sportello. Using Chandler territory as inspiration, Pynchon launches a tale as complicated as anything he's ever written, a tale that involves rotten cops, a missing girlfriend, a murdered developer, and a sinister menace called the Golden Fang, which is a mysterious schooner used for smuggling, but also the name of a shadowy holding company and maybe even a Southeast Asian heroin cartel. There are times when the false starts, red herrings, dead ends, and duplicities get so tangled that all a reader can think of is the story about Faulkner and Leigh Brackett, who, in the midst of writing the screenplay for The Big Sleep, had to call up Chandler to ask who killed the chauffeur—and he couldn't remember either."

Jones' conclusion:

Does it add up? Maybe. Do you get lost? Lured down a long linguistic dark alley is more like it. It's always weird but always fun.

I'll be at the Tattered Cover early Tuesday for my copy, and I'll post my preliminary thoughts in a Weekend Squish soon, and more when I've finished it. The single quotes around "slacker" in the first graf above are a warning that I'm actually quite busy in the next three months, and don't know when this will be.

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