[Book Review] Inherent Vice (2009)

After watching Inherent Vice, I was still fascinated with the story, so I finished the novel in a brisk seventeen sittings. We still tag along as private investigator “Doc” Sportello takes on a case like the movie that it inspired, and though much is still the same, there are certain elements that make the novel cooler and crazier at the expense of being more cluttered.

Rating: ★★★★☆ [4/5]
(Highlight to reveal like this spoilers.)

The novel fits dense specifics into dreamy asides that stray from the plot, with entire descriptive, practical paragraphs devoted to random thoughts or side characters that don’t add much, like a psychedelic rock band covering a pop song while including multiple ten minute jam solos into an otherwise three minute jangle. The winding structure of the novel took me over one hundred pages to fully understand with unclear dialogue structure prompting me to skip around to figure out who was talking. Perhaps all of this was intentional to better engulf the reader in the confusing fog that Doc peers through to observe this version of 60s Los Angeles?

That confusion could almost be personified in the ever present fog that’s written about so frequently that it’s almost the real main character.

My draw to the movie was the actual main character of Doc. He’s this boulder that isn’t polished by society nor worn out by his excesses. Unlike perhaps the movie’s biggest inspiration of The Dude from The Big Lebowski, Doc is engrossing because he’s a competent detective that’s just smart enough to roll with the punches while influenced. [Minor spoilers]It’s not hinted at in the movie, but here when he’s not influenced, like Columbo frequently revealing he’s an unassuming, bumbling detective by choice, Doc displays an incredibly keen sense of catching up to the game’s afoot. [/spoilers].

That leads into the divergences of the movie, which neatly unwinds the overall story, reshuffles the order, and omits the fattiest plot elements. Pynchon’s winding writing does remind me of a more rambling and less substantial Hunter S. Thompson even though this also allows in details that let the atmosphere breathe. Shaving off the top layer of character and creativity does decrease confusion, as I was while reading certain passages that seemed to be more like exploring colorful dead-end alleys in a crowded city, however the results don’t quite match.

Once you get Pynchon’s cadence, the book almost makes more sense than the movie. The movie has a fun, light pace. The novel [Major spoilers] is brutal. Pynchon is not afraid to rattle his characters. Doc doesn’t receive the movie’s happy ending. The novel instead ends almost like The Great Gatsby and yet it feels more satisfying like he’s waking up from the 60s and adapting to the new brutal times rather than receiving a picturesque ending.[/spoilers]

While I prefer the novel to the movie, I might recommend the movie first before committing major effort to decoding the novel, though I’ll be returning to both in the future.

My big goal is writing. My most important goal is writing "The Story." All other goals should work toward that central goal. My proudest moment is the most recent time I overcame some fear, which should have been today. I'm a better zombie than I was yesterday. I'm not better than you and you're not better than me. Let's strive to be better every day.