Pynchon's New Novel Dark, Delicious

Thomas Pynchon's new book, Inherent Vice is a deliciously composed dark comedy. The story of the abduction of a millionaire developer and the stone hippie private eye who goes in search of him is charming and pleasing.

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MADELEINE BRAND, host:

From NPR News, this is ALL THINGS CONSIDERED. I'm Madeleine Brand.

ROBERT SIEGEL, host:

And I'm Robert Siegel.

"Inherent Vice" is the tendency of material to deteriorate because of its own essential instability. It's also the title of the latest novel by Thomas Pynchon.

And Alan Cheuse has our review.

ALAN CHEUSE: Let's hear it from the mysterious Mr. Pynchon, known for his bloated masterpieces. This time, he's written a deliciously composed dark comedy, and he brings it in under 400 pages.

The book is a noir detective novel about Southern California in the late '60s, early '70s, and it plunges ahead, full steam, with a story about the abduction of a millionaire developer and the short and stoned hippie private eye named Doc Sportello, who goes in search of him.

(Reading) She came along the alley and up the back steps the way she always used to. Back then, it was always sandals, bottom half of a flower-print bikini, faded Country Joe and the Fish T-shirt.

After reading those opening lines, I found myself charmed and pleased with the way Pynchon meets the genre square and fair. The woman in question in that opening paragraph is Shasta, an old girlfriend of private eye Doc Sportello, the psychedelic detective whose company is known as LSD Investigations. LSD stands for location, surveillance, detection.

She leads Doc on a merry chase, even as he's pursued by the cops and accompanied by a cohort of hippie-dippy characters. Of course, in the Pynchon tradition, there's an overarching menace, a spy-outfit-turned-drug-cartel known as the Golden Fang. And keeping with the tone of the genre to which Pynchon is paying homage, there's a running, mostly mock discography of '60s music, from surfer songs to power Beatles tunes and the lyrics of a number of other songs Doc picks off his radio, stuff like a parody of a black surfer song that he calls "Soul Gidget." I'll give it a try.

(Singing) Who's that strolling' down the street, high-heel flip-flops on her feet, always got a great big smile, never gets popped by juvenile. Who is it? Soul Gidget.

Whatever you think of the '60s, or maybe you don't think anything about it, this book may sing to you too.

SIEGEL: The novel is "Inherent Vice" by Thomas Pynchon. And when Alan Cheuse isn't trying to sing, he teaches writing at George Mason University.

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