inherent vineland

I just finished re-reading Vineland, and it is true (as I reported before) that I remembered its flaws much more clearly than its positive aspects.

In the New York Times, Michiko Kakutani said that Inherent Vice was "a workmanlike improvisation on Vineland." For my taste, it's more like another try, much more successful, at the same general idea. Inherent Vice is Vineland done right.

Many people have referred to the similarities and connections between the two books, but the echoes are more than just themes and ideas. There are a lot of shared details.

  • a girl named Trillium (possibly the same person Doc meets)
  • a 1964 Dodge Dart (possibly the same car as Doc drives)
  • Moe of the Three Stooges going "Spread Out!"
  • Mod Squad

And that's within only a few pages in Vineland. I just opened it to a page at random and saw Tex Wiener's École de Pilotage (which is also mentioned in Inherent Vice, of course).

As I read, I did feel like Pynchon must have been referring back to Vineland every page or two when writing Inherent Vice. Maybe he was using the wiki.

Both books are about the loss of freedom, the global clampdown (in every area of life, including and most importantly our brains) after the 1960s, but Inherent Vice gives a much clearer idea of what was lost. In Vineland we mostly see the People's Republic of Rock and Roll, but the PR3 is doomed to fail from the beginning. So, too bad about the infusion of paranoia, kids, but the whole experiment didn't have a chance anyway.

However, the most annoying thing about Vineland is how arbitrary a lot of it is. Maybe Pynchon isn't the author to go to for deep psychological analysis, but there are things here, things which are vital to the plot, which are completely without motivation. Everybody loves Frenesi. Why? I have no idea. Even the characters themselves don't know why:

"...I can see why you guys married her."

"Why?" asked Zoyd and Flash, quickly and together.

"You're adults, you're supposed to know."

"Give us a hint?" Zoyd pleaded.

And Frenesi, the object of all this arbitrary attraction, lusts after Brock Vond, to the extent that she betrays everybody around her and everything that she believes in. Why? Still no idea.

Well, yes, I do know why. Because otherwise the plot doesn't work. To quote from the wiki:

"You know what happens when my pussy's runnin' the show."
If this is Frenesi's only motivation for the series of betrayals (including her betrayal of herself) that lie at the heart of Vineland, it's a thin reed on which to build a book.

On the other hand, the things that happen in Inherent Vice are quite believable. Why does Doc not sell out to Bigfoot, though he knows many of his contemporaries have? Why does Adrian Prussia get into his particular line of work? Why does Mickey decide to create Arrepentimiento?

And Trillium's unfortunate devotion to Puck is certainly more believable than Frenesi and Brock Vond.

With Pynchon's earlier novels there was some griping (at least I heard some) that the female characters were, even by his standards, pretty thinly drawn and mostly seen in terms of men and sex. (Quick, name a female character more pathetic than Jessica Swanlake.) In V. there is Mafia Winsome, who is certainly not submissive to her husband, but her goal is to rescue the world from certain decay through "Heroic Love," which in practice means "screwing five or six times a night, every night, with a great many athletic, half-sadistic wrestling holds thrown in." So, still defined by men and sex.

Vineland is apparently Pynchon's big breakthrough in this area, but his solution seems to be that all the men are whiny losers and all the women are above average. It's like watching a movie where all the men are played by Paul Giamatti and all the women are played by Angelina Jolie. Which might be interesting as a sketch on Saturday Night Live, but it pales over the course of a whole novel.

This is something I encountered myself when I was working on my third novel. At a certain point, I realized that there was not enough testosterone. It was out of balance. That's why Neil ended up playing a much bigger part than I'd anticipated.

(However, I will admit that I really like DL Chastain and Takeshi Fumimota in Vineland. They're a great couple, and he is definitely not a whiny loser once they get together.)

Which leads to another question. It's pretty obvious that DL and Frenesi were lovers, but Pynchon suddenly gets vague whenever this subject comes up. And Prairie is obviously in love with her cohort Che, but he's even less specific about exactly what their relationship consists of. Why so coy? It's like watching a movie from the 1930s or 1940s and having to deduce where the sex takes place. Which is rather odd from the author of Gravity's Rainbow. But he certainly got over this peculiar reticence by the time he wrote IV, as I talked about here.

Anyway, as I said here (point #9), a lot of how I ultimately feel about Pynchon's novels depends on the endings, and this one sucks (especially as compared to IV). Prairie says "Get the fuck out of here!" to Brock Vond as he hovers above her on a cable (loved the part about "Death From Slightly Above," by the way), but then later (after he is safely gone) she hopes he does come back and take her away? Why? Nothing in her character has prepared for this.

Doc would have a few things to say about the whole thing. At least the "pro-cop fuckin mind control" in IV was realistic.

Oh, and sorry, but the "I am your father" shtick (true or not) is invalidated by the Star Wars rule.

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