It’s not just the grand, sweeping stories and themes. It’s not just the staggering mix of high ideas and sophomoric humor, the sometimes absurdly-monikered characters, the wild places and occasionally improbable events.
It’s the humanity. Even in a novel like “V.”, which swings between historical epochs, jumps from one continent to another, poking at grand conspiracies and dangerous plots, all while detailing the picaresque adventures of Benny Profane and The Whole Sick Crew, you get some wonderfully simple moments. Like the coda of jazzman McClintic Sphere:
“There came to McClintic something it was time he got around to seeing: that the only way clear of the cool/crazy flipflop was obviously slow, frustrating hard work. Love with your mouth shut, help without breaking your ass or publicizing it: keep cool, but care.”
I’m getting ready to read Pynchon’s new novel “Bleeding Edge” by reading two of his more recent novels which I somehow missed–“Against the Day” and “Inherent Vice”.
“Inherent Vice” is pretty low-key compared to “V” and “Gravity’s Rainbow” and even “The Crying of Lot 49”. The action is pretty much limited to Southern California–no visits to Malta, Egypt, Africa or any other exotic spots. It revolves around a stoner gumshoe with a fondness for John Garvey movies named Doc Sportello.
But there are plenty of the Pynchon-esque elements we are used to–a dazzling cast of characters with some pretty wacky backstories and the strong sense of a lingering conspiracy which may envelope our hero at anytime. It’s a book that didn’t get a lot of love when it first came out, but I really enjoyed it.
And here’s why…it’s rollicking good fun. I’ve got to share this one little tidbit, a throw-away bit of fluff that comes after Doc has travelled to Vegas looking for a guy named Puck Beaverton, who just might know something about the case Doc is working. Doc makes his way to Sin City with Tito, a limo-driver who happens to be a recovering gambling addict who wants to go there to test his will. Doc expects Puck to be in the company of his pal Einar, who has a talent for working the gears and levers on slot machines and roulette wheels to manipulate the results, which predictably makes him persona non-grata at most casinos, which is why they are hitting a place in North Vegas called the Nine of Diamonds.
The scam involves Einar working a machine until it gives up its jackpot, with the lesser-known Puck stepping in to grab the winnings. But when Tito and Doc arrive, just in time to see Einar hit the jackpot on his half dollar slot, the improbable and unexpected happens–Puck’s nickel machine hits at the same time and he is so stunned and unsure of what to do, that he just takes off, leaving Doc and Tito to grab the winnings from the two machines.
Doc retires to his hotel room and we get this classic bit from out of the blue:
When he got back, he flipped on the TV and watched Monkees reruns till the local news came on. The guest today was a visiting Marxist economist from one of the Warsaw Pact nations, who appeared to be in the middle of a nervous breakdown. “Las Vegas,” he tried to explain, “it sits out here in the middle of the desert, produces no tangible goods, money flows in, money flows out, nothing is produced. This place should not, according to theory, even exist, let alone prosper as it does. I feel my whole life has been based on illusory premises. I have lost reality. Can you tell me, please, where is reality?” The interviewer looked uncomfortable and tried to change the subject to Elvis Presley.
A Marxist economist melting down when confronted by the unique lunacy of Vegas. That’s just priceless. And a reminder of the fun that lies at the heart of Pynchon’s best work.