various obsessions

A few random thoughts about Inherent Vice.

1. The plot actually does make sense. Who committed what crime and why, it all ties together.

2. The setup is classic: an old flame comes to the detective, asking for help. He agrees to help her, and, when beginning the investigation, he is knocked unconscious. When he wakes up, his police department nemesis is there, accusing him of a murder. The cop then decides to release him, but the old flame has already vanished. (This is, for example, the plot of virtually every episode of Pat Novak for Hire.) Other clients come to the detective, to hire him for apparently-unrelated cases, but then connections start to appear.

3. Various critics have commented on the zany, typically-Pynchonian names (Buddy Tubeside, Rudy Blatnoyd, Dr. Threeply – and that's only the medical men), but nobody has commented on the pattern. Neighborhood characters have nicknames (Ensenada Slim, Flaco the Bad, St. Flip, Downstairs Eddie). Minor characters have zany names (Japonica Fenway, Jason Velveeta, Art Tweedle). Important characters, characters we're supposed to follow and even care about, have regular names, such as Doc's semi-g.f., Penny Kimball. Doc's relationship with Penny would come across completely differently if she was named Petunia Leeway or Trillium Fortnight. And that's also what cues us (subconsciously) that the Charlocks and the Harlingens are families we should care about.

4. When Doc is snooping at the mansion where the Boards (a surf band) live, he comes upon a room where a bunch of people are watching, with incredible attention and seriousness, Dark Shadows, and the narrator mentions that Dark Shadows had, at that point, "begun to get heavily into something called 'parallel time,' which was confounding the viewing audience nationwide, even those who remained with their wits about them, although many dopers found no problem at all in following it."

What "parallel time" really means (which is not completely defined in the novel) is another dimension, which you could find yourself in by accident (either temporarily or permanently), simply by walking through the wrong door at the right time, where the people look like the people you know, but they have different names and personalities and relationships than the people you're familiar with.

Well, Dark Shadows was indeed in parallel time at that point (May of 1970, the "1970PT" storyline to be exact), but this is significant for other reasons. For one thing, as has been discovered by readers even more obsessive than I am, there is an extra day in Inherent Vice. It's possible to figure out what day each event takes place because Doc is following the NBA playoffs throughout, and there's an extra day between May 4 and May 5. During that day, many people act out of character (some fairly extremely), as if Doc has himself stumbled into parallel time for a day.

5. Another possible occurrence of parallel time (which I discovered myself) is this curious progression: a) in Chapter Six, Doc has lunch with Penny and then she hands him over to the FBI for questioning; b) in Chapter Sixteen, Doc sees her again, and this betrayal is a big issue between them. But in Chapter Eight (which falls in between those two other events), Doc spends the night with Penny, and it's never mentioned.

6. And also, in Chapter Eighteen, Doc loses one of his huarache sandals, and walks around with only one for a while. In Chapter Twenty, Sauncho calls him on the phone and mentions, entirely unnecessarily, that Doc should wear some Topsiders for their proposed boat outing, rather than that one huarache he's been wearing. But, as far as we can tell, Sauncho hasn't seen Doc since he lost the sandal. They have two conversations in between there, but the first is presented as a dream, and the second (where Sauncho defines the legal term "inherent vice") appears to be a flashback.

Unless the dream wasn't really a dream after all...

Other Obsessions

Astoria, the cover artist on A Sane Woman, created a book one time where 8.5x11 paper just seemed slightly wrong, so she ended up using a paper cutter to trim 0.25" off of each book, so it would look right to her. I wouldn't do that, but I'm just as obsessive about other things, and one of them is the hypertext construction of "Carly" (as I mentioned last time). Well, I am doing it the "easy" way, in the blog (proving perhaps that I'm more obsessive about the construction of hypertext fiction than I am about elegant code), but it's still a lot of work. I had to do a flow chart (just for the first part) and it ended up spilling off the piece of paper I was using. The first part (of seven) should be up next week.

Oh, and for the duration of "Carly," RSS feeds on the utownwriting site are suspended, since this story won't work unless you're reading it on the web. RSS feeds will continue here, of course, so you can find out when the story is updated.

I'm also starting to think about writing a hypertext mystery story, and how that would work.

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