pynchon: california man


Since Thomas Pynchon’s recently published seventh novel, Inherent Vice, arrives as his third fictional representation of California in the period 1964-70 (following The Crying of Lot 49 (1966) and Vineland (1990)), it’s fair to ask: Why does Pynchon keep coming back here? I’m among those who have long considered Pynchon’s California novels as “lesser works” in his corpus—indeed, in the years between Gravity’s Rainbow (1973) and Vineland it was common to consider Lot 49 as a slight work, maybe not even a novel by Pynchon’s standards, a view the author himself gave voice to in 1984 in his introduction to Slow Learner, a collection of his early stories. That’s the year, as it happens, in which Vineland is set, and it’s possible that the latter novel was aimed to offer a “real Pynchon novel” on the period in question, as it flashed back to c. 1969, with student unrest, widespread drug use, endemic rock’n’roll, and counter-cultural attitudes deeply ingrained into its worldview—matters which were all present in Lot 49 as setting, but not so deliberately evoked as what Vineland calls “geist that could’ve been polter along with zeit.” In other words, Vineland returned to those days with something of the skeptical, jaundiced eye that four years of conservative Reagandom had made somewhat de rigeur, playing havoc with pipedreams of revolution as a poltergeist might, but also, as zeitgeist, reminding its readers that those glory days of Californian unrest occurred when Reagan was governor, thus, arguably, running the freak flag back up the pole to assert that “the geist” was still unbowed.

more from Donald Brown at The Quarterly Conversation here.