Inherent Vice

Cover00Paul La Farge in Bookforum:

What seemed like tragedy in The Crying of Lot 49 returns here as farce, and there’s something tragic about the transformation. You could say Pynchon is losing his edge, that his paranoid sensibility is not so keen at seventy-two (his present age) as it was in 1969, when he was only thirty-two, living in the LA area, and working on his magnum opus, Gravity’s Rainbow (1973). You could even suspect him of nostalgia. But the other possibility—with Pynchon, there’s always another possibility—is that he has written a book about losing it, about memory and, more to the point, forgetting. Beneath Inherent Vice’s riffs and twists and red (or are they green?) herrings, there’s a deep sadness, a despair of ever making anything out clearly. Here’s Sportello looking at some photographs:

“Doc got out his lens and gazed into each image till one by one they began to float apart into little blobs of color. It was as if whatever had happened had reached some kind of limit. It was like finding the gateway to the past unguarded, unforbidden because it didn’t have to be. Built into the act of return finally was this glittering mosaic of doubt. Something like what Sauncho’s colleagues in marine insurance liked to call inherent vice.”

If there’s a secret shimmering in the novel’s fog, it’s that the limit of what can be known is imposed not by any nefarious organization, but by memory itself.