I came across some tips for reading Pynchon a little too late to be of help for our book club. The Pynchon Wiki, which I stumbled on the day before our meeting, tells newbies to “just enjoy the ride” and not to worry too much about confusing plot twists, references that are beyond reach, the plethora of characters, and frequent lack of closure. One fan advises: “Once you’re hooked by the humor, the density of detail and the, well, magic . . . you can always go back and try to understand more of it later. Hell, read it for fun next time too. You find yourself getting more of it each time; and that’s half the pleasure.”
As I was casting about for a book to choose for our club, I kept running into Thomas Pynchon’s name among the greats. I had read Inherent Vice a few years ago and being one of his more accessible novels, I thought it would be a fun one to pick. Described on the cover as “part noir, part psychedelic romp,” the book follows hippie private eye Doc Sportello in late ’60s L.A. as he tries to unravel one mystery after another, starting with (and all linked to) the disappearance of his ex-girlfriend’s new flame. Sadly, since I failed to impart the above advice, many members simply gave up. It being my second time through (and having seen the Paul Thomas Anderson film) I was at an advantage. Being unconstrained by the sometimes-slippery plot left me open to so much more.
I was struck most by the sheer beauty of the writing. Pynchon is a lover of drawn out, serpentine sentences that are rich in imagery and dense in detail. Setting the scene one day at sunrise, he writes: “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.” (p. 98) And there’s something luminous like this on most every page.
The underlying themes in the novel crystallized for me on this reading as well. Pynchon explores the paranoia of the era (along with the shady government forces that give cause), fidelity (both toward individuals and beliefs), spirituality, morality, and the challenge of hanging on to one’s ideals in an increasingly dark world. This last is perhaps best said here: “. . . and here was Doc, on the natch, caught in a low-level bummer he couldn’t find a way out of, about how the Psychedelic Sixties, this little parenthesis of light, might close after all, and all be lost, taken back into darkness . . . how a certain hand might reach terribly out of darkness and reclaim the time, easy as taking a joint from a doper and stubbing it out for good.” (p. 254)
Much more could be said (there is a whole Wiki after all) but let me leave you with what we could all agree on: the deliciousness of Bigfoot’s favourite snack and how much fun it was to make. We used this recipe for Chocolate Dipped Frozen Bananas (except omitted the coconut oil and used dark Chipits chips; bathed half the bananas in toasted pecans). Far out!