Friday, July 31, 2009

Review: 'Watch the paranoia, please.'

Thomas Pynchon's Vineland is another psychosexual, psychedelic romp through Southern California - splitting half of its time in the glory days of the 1960s, the other half in the frightening 1980s. The second book in a loose trilogy, following The Crying of Lot 49 (reviewed earlier) and preceding Inherent Vice which publishes next week, Vineland is more outwardly concerned with satire and political commentary than most of the other Pynchon novels I've read. Vineland also has a smaller cast of characters and a more linear plot, as linear as Pynchon perhaps possibly can be, to make it one of the easier - although slower - novels this writer has produced.

In short the year is 1984 (a reference to Orwell), and Zoyd Wheeler wakes from a daze. He's gotten some notoriety in the country from his 'transfenestration' acts. Enough attention is brought to his latest jump that his arch-nemesis Federal agent Brock Vond gets wind of it and begins to show up on scene. His daughter Prairie - supposedly born of Zoyd and his ex-wife, the mysterious (because you don't know which side she's pulling for) Frenesi Gates, a woman whose troubled past is a huge section of this book - is sent 'underground' to a ninjette residency, where she befriends DL (Daryl Louise, a ninjette herself, always wearing a gi) and Takeshi Fumimota, someone that DL had used the Vibrating Palm technique in order to kill him (sounds a lot like Kill Bill's five point palm exploding heart technique) but who had survived and now they have made a pact to work together - although with the clause of no sex. Most of the novel itself is a discovery of who these people are, why they are all related, and trying to figure out people's true identity. It's a family novel, all in all. Pynchon even dedicated the novel to his mother and father.

The majority of this novel is also spent in flashbacks and memories of the 1960s, when DL ruminates on how she met Takeshi Fumimota; how Frenesi became an outlaw and hunted by Brock Vond, eventually leading to the marriage between Frenesi and Zoyd and the birth of Prairie; how 'Mucho' Maas - Oedipa Maas's ex-husband of The Crying of Lot 49 - becomes a major music producer for Indelible Records, a company that wants to sign up the Corvairs, headed up by Scott Oof (who makes an appearance in Inherent Vice). It's a nostalgic look at the paranoia of the Nixon era, the counterculture that said era created, and a thankful reminder that we don't have to deal with that anymore. When compared to the 1980s and Reaganomics and the Cold War, the 60s look easy, much more fun.

The narrator perhaps writes it best: 'When power corrupts, it keeps a log of its progress, written into that most sensitive memory device, the human face. Who could withstand the light? What viewer could believe in the war, the system, the countless lies about American freedom, looking into these mug shots of the bought and sold? Hearing the synchronized voices repeat the same formulas, evasive, affectless, cut off from whatever they had once been by promises of what they would never get to collect on?'

Really Vineland can be scene as a treatise on parenting and the effects of political parents on non-political much anguish it can cause. Perhaps that's why this is probably the slowest moving Pynchon novel I've tackled. Although always jocular, there is a huge sense of weight to these words. It's also an amusing take on the television generation, as those of the 60s were the first really to have tv in their homes, those in the 80s were the first really to be brought up with it at birth. There's a rather amusing subculture called the Thanatoids, who are basically human zombies, slaves to the television - all of their scientific experiments deal with the Tube.

With the standard Pynchon style of a story creating sidestories which create sidestories that become main stories until we get back to the original story, Vineland is an amusing read certainly recommended as it is a very accessible insane novel featuring ninjettes, 24fps cameras, underground movements, Star Trek, and the ol' O-O (once over).


Anonymous said...

you had me at "glory days of the 1960's."

colin said...

I'm a little upset that you didn't refer to my previous review of the novel. Alas, I will have to read this one to get a proper sense of it. Is it a short Pynchon or a long one?

Salvatore said...

I was trying to find that e-mail, but for some reason at work it wasn't happening.

It's actually a 'short' Pynchon novel, as in 380 pages. The LA books are a lot shorter than the other ones. Which is kind of nice.