Thursday, 4 March 2010

Vineland - Thomas Pynchon

This book, appropriately enough, was a bit like listening to a harmless old stoner rambling on in the corner of the room. By turns interesting, funny, and strange, but for the most part following an internal road map that has no relevance to the outside world, stopping off along the way to point out stuff that to the stoned mind is probably fascinating, but to an outsider is a chipped old bit of concrete.

Thomas Pynchon is an author I feel I should like. I do remember being impressed with Gravity’s Rainbow when I read it in the ‘70s, but maybe my tastes have changed. Given the accolades on the cover, I couldn’t help thinking this was a case of emperor’s clothes. The plot is pure TV soap-opera schlock. The cast of weirdos aren’t very weird. There is next to no characterization – and the one character with whom one should have had any sympathy elicited none from me. Indeed, by the time I got to the end of the book I was hoping they’d all get run over or whisked off in black helicopters never to be seen again.

The whole gave the impression of being a uniformly dull slab of rock onto which someone had tried, without success, to carve an elaborate portrait of a particular piece of American history. They used the wrong tools, to my mind, as it seemed to me that the surface was barely scratched. Maybe that’s the haze of dope smoke obscuring the view. The paranoia of the period, the hope and betrayal, the self-obsession characteristic both of many hippies and most Feds (as well as the destructive cycle into which both became locked) have all been dealt with far better by other writers.

I had been considering looking at other work by Pynchon, but after this, I don’t think I’ll bother.