Tuesday, 24 December 2019

Book review: Vineland, Thomas Pynchon (1990)

This was the second Pynchon novel I have tried to read, and the second one that I put down soon after starting. Pynchon doesn’t give the reader much help in the way of clues as to what is supposed to be happening and, frustrated, I ended up going to the Wikipedia page for the novel so that I could find out what the book was about. If you rely on the text itself, you will be disappointed.

In the beginning – I didn’t finish more than about 30 pages – there is a superannuated hippy who is trying to get another tranche of public funds by demonstrating his mental incapacity. He does this by jumping through a window each year. The media is present. There’s also a federal law enforcement agent who is there when he goes, dressed as a woman, through the restaurant window. The story is intended to function on the basis of the interest that this scenario elicits in the reader’s imagination.

This book (“the novel of the decade” is written on the cover) is a classic case of how a focus on style over other considerations can simply swamp a promising plot. My copy has a sticker on the front saying “$2” so, presumably, I bought it somewhere on sale.

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