Saturday, May 22, 2010


I think it's hilarious that I made a big to-do about not being able to finish a Pynchon book, and then I read four of them in a row, and loved them all. Here's the fourth, Vineland, and here's my review.

Zoyd Wheeler is an ex-hippie in the Eighties living a normal existence with his teenaged daughter Prairie in a northern California logging town called Vineland. Things suddenly change when Wheeler's old nemesis Brock Vond of the government comes swooping in with an army, tries to kidnap Prairie, takes away his home, and drives him deep into the underground where he used to live. Along the way, they meet ninjas, punk bands, Mafioso's, a possible time machine, anarchists, students, drug dealers, and any freaky character that you think Pynchon uses a lot.

Vineland seems like the runt of Pynchon's literary litter. Released twenty years after his undisputed masterpiece Gravity's Rainbow, his fans were left wanting. This is a shorter, more accessible work, and part of Pynchon's pattern of releasing novels about California (rather than everything). 

It's easy to see why this doesn't have the critical acclaim of his other novels. Frankly, it's just not that interesting. There's way too much happening with what little plot there is, and the characters and jokes aren't really that funny. We're supposed to imagine that Vineland is like a cartoon, which is reinforced in the text by cues. As a cartoon, this isn't cartoony enough, if that makes sense. Not enough bizarre antics, gratuitous violence, or zaniness.

There is zaniness, don't get me wrong, it's just that the zaniness isn't that funny. Maybe I just burned out on too much Pynchon, and the style and jokes wore thin for me. Maybe I need to give this another try.

I didn't hate or even dislike Vineland; I just thought it was satisfactory. There are too many books in the world for me to waste my time on something satisfactory. This is harsh, but it is true.

Vineland is definitely one of Pynchon's lesser works. It's more entertaining than most books in the stores nowadays, but it wasn't enough for me. Not deep enough, not funny enough, not cartoony enough. I will re-read it, to give it another shot, as I will all of Pynchon's books, but for now, I have encountered my second misstep with the reclusive author.

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