Tuesday, April 29, 2014

One Perfect Page

A couple of weeks ago I finished reading Inherent Vice, which Thomas Pynchon released in 2009, and which is only the second Pynchon I've read. Appropriately, it seems to be the second most approachable of his books, because it's only about 370 pages and its journey and characters are reasonably straightforward. Part of the reason I wanted to read it was the approachable thing and the other part was this book trailer, below, which I think I've linked to now three times on this blog, but I can't help it, I've watched this thing like 50 times and I never get tired of it. The voice is Pynchon's, apparently, and he's so private that I just can't get over how cool the existence of this narration is, because why this book trailer (which is a ridiculous concept, IMHO)? Why now, i.e. 2009? Why this book? O, the mystery.

The prose in the trailer does not appear in sequence in the book, to the best of my ability to recognize prose from 2.5 minutes of narration in 370 pages of writing. ("Gum-sandal" and "stewardii" do.) And the book is written in third person, not first, which just adds another layer of quirk.

But I didn't love the book, in truth. It was somewhat hard to follow (surprise!) and it just didn't seem to add up to much.

I loved The Crying of Lot 49 when I first read it because it was completely new to me. I'd never read anything so irreverent, nor anything that ended with what I perceived as a middle finger to the reader, nor anything that skipped along with such a light but powerful touch. I read it again for class a few weeks back and I loved it this time for similar but more sophisticated reasons (which is what comes of nearly a decade of additional reading in between): the lightness coupled with the depth of contemplation that's present in that book, the farce and tragedy inherent in it that's a little like the reverse of the Jacobean text-within-a-text, The Courier's Tragedy, that Pynchon invents. I.e. the tragedy in the play is farcical because the violence is so over-the-top, while the farce in the novel is tragic because it's life-and-death. And I loved the ending, which I no longer think is a middle finger but instead an educational-short-style "What do YOU, the readers at home, think happens next?"

Meanwhile, Inherent Vice didn't really have any depth. (I don't think.) It takes place in 1970 in a beach community in L.A., and I gotta say I suspect Pynchon wrote it in 1970 and just pulled it out of a drawer and fiddled with it a bit in order to publish it in 2009, because I have no idea how anyone on earth could remember such intensive detail about life 40 years ago, unless he didn't live life at all in between, which obviously is not the case. The detail is the thing I liked best about the book - life in 1970 in Los Angeles was sure interesting, and I felt like I had an up-close and personal perspective on it that, despite reading Helter Skelter about 30 times, I've never had before. But to write the book, he melds the hippie life and the noir detective life, and I found that forced, not cool.

That said, there is some amazing stuff in the book. After I read page 98, I read it again, and then I bookmarked it and read it out loud to Matt, and then, when I returned the book to the library, I photocopied it and read it again. Then I typed it up and pasted it here, below. There's nothing before or after this on page 98; it's one perfect page that stands on its own, and it's like sugar-coated crack to me, this lyrical L.A. that appears almost nowhere in literature except in rare moments of Chandler and here, on page 98 of Inherent Vice.
Sunrise was on the way, the bars were just closed or closing, out in front of Wavos everybody was either at the tables along the sidewalk, sleeping with their heads on Health Waffles or in bowls of vegetarian chili, or being sick in the street, causing small-motorcycle traffic to skid in the vomit and so forth. It was late winter in Gordita, though for sure not the usual weather. You heard people muttering to the effect that last summer the beach didn't have summer till August, and now there probably wouldn't be any winter till spring. Santa Anas had been blowing all the smog out of downtown L.A., funneling between the Hollywood and Puente Hills on westward through Gordita Beach and out to sea, and this had been going on for what seemed like weeks now. Offshore winds had been too strong to be doing the surf much good, but surfers found themselves getting up early anyway to watch the dawn weirdness, which seemed like a visible counterpart to the feeling in everybody's skin of desert winds and heat and relentlessness, with the exhaust from millions of motor vehicles mixing with microfine Mojave sand to refract the light toward the bloody end of the spectrum, everything dim, lurid and biblical, sailor-take-warning skies. The state liquor stamps over the tops of tequila bottles in the stores were coming unstuck, is how dry the air was. Liquor-store owners could be filling those bottles with anything anymore. Jets were taking off the wrong way from the airport, the engine sounds were not passing across the sky where they should have, so everybody's dreams got disarranged, when people could get to sleep at all. In the little apartment complexes the wind entered narrowing to whistle through the stairwells and ramps and catwalks, and the leaves of the palm trees outside rattled together with a liquid sound, so that from inside, in the darkened rooms, in louvered light, it sounded like a rainstorm, the wind raging in the concrete geometry, the palms beating together like the rush of a tropical downpour, enough to get you to open the door and look outside, and of course there'd only be the same hot cloudless depth of day, no rain in sight. 

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