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Literature / Inherent Vice

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Inherent Vice is a 2009 novel by Thomas Pynchon. Ostensibly it follows Doc Sportello, a private investigator in California trying to find a missing real estate developer on the behest of his ex-girlfriend but really the work explores a much wider set of themes including the sex, drugs and rock and roll lifestyle of the ’60s and its clashes with forces of law and order with a neo-noir sensibility.

It gets even more confusing from there.note  Despite this, Inherent Vice is one of Pynchon’s less confusing novels—after The Crying of Lot 49 and Vineland, it may be his most accessible work for newcomers.

A film adaptation by Paul Thomas Anderson was released in 2014, to critical acclaim.

This novel contains examples of the following tropes:

  • Bigger on the Inside: Page 21: "Nobody was around. It felt like maybe there had been, till Doc showed up. The place was also turning out to be bigger inside than out." It's not clear whether this is a product of a Mushroom Samba or whether the place actually is bigger on the inside. Given Pynchon's love of Maybe Magic, Maybe Mundane, either interpretation is plausible.
  • Conspiracy Kitchen Sink: The Golden Fang. The Viggies. The Boards. Mickey Wolfmann. Wherever you look, a new conspiracy pops up.
  • Continuity Nod: To Vineland. Gordita Beach, where Doc resides, is also where Zoyd and Frenesi resides, and Sledge Poteet was mentioned by Tariq Khalil.
  • Deconstructive Parody: Of noir detective stories and stoner culture, amongst other things. Combining the two takes the novel into some strange places.
  • End of an Age: The novel essentially functions as Pynchon's lament for the end of the sixties.
  • Femme Fatale: Shasta starts off as one, but Pynchon once again subverts the trope by the end of the book.
  • Gainax Ending: Although the main characters end up getting surprisingly happy endings, very few of the culprits of the mayhem are brought to justice, and the novel ends on a wistful note signifying the decline of the counterculture. Many of the layers of the Kudzu Plot are left unresolved, and readers are ultimately left to piece together what it all means.
  • Kudzu Plot: A Pynchon staple; there are numerous characters who have contrasting motives and it's difficult to piece together who did what when, which is ultimately one of the driving forces behind the novel. The amount of pot most of the characters smoke probably doesn't help.
  • Lighter and Softer: It's one of Pynchon's least violent or cynical novels.
  • Meet Cute: The trope is referenced by name on page 37: "Coy and I should've met cute."
  • Mind Screw: Because it’s a Pynchon novel. It doesn't help that everyone's stoned out of their mind, because it's the sixties, so you get a lot of Unreliable Expositor and Unreliable Narrator because people's memories of events are suspect, and you're dealing with a plot as complex as that of The Big Sleep, so piecing together what happened is no mean feat. Despite this, it’s a Downplayed Trope by Pynchon's standards; it's one of his least mind screwy novels, and it’s commonly recommended as newcomers’ second step after The Crying of Lot 49.
  • Mushroom Samba: Notably with the vision quest Doc goes on. Nearly everyone is stoned for most of the novel, including Doc's parents. We're hardly exaggerating here.
  • No Ending: As noted, the book has Kudzu Plot and several branches get Left Hanging.
  • No-Respect Guy: Doc is a capable private investigator and a valuable informant for the police. Despite this, he is treated with nothing but contempt by them due to being a pot-smoking hippie.
  • Ominous Legal Phrase Title: The legal definition of inherent vice is "an exclusion found in most property insurance policies eliminating coverage for loss caused by a quality in property that causes it to damage or destroy itself."
  • Private Detective: Doc Sportello is a deconstruction of the usual noir archetype. Typically stoned, doesn’t really shake anybody down, so on.
  • Properly Paranoid: Denis and Doc himself at various points in the book. Given the number of conspiracies at work here, they’re of course justified in being so.
  • Shout-Out: As is typical for Pynchon, there are hundreds, often subtle enough that you're not entirely sure whether they're intended as such. A few representative examples from near the start of the book (if we listed them all, it would at least double the size of this article):
    • At one point, Doc wonders if a building he's wandered to is Bigger on the Inside. This may be a shout-out to the TARDIS from Doctor Who - especially when we take into account that "Doc" is short for "Doctor".
    • Bigfoot Bjornson is known to enjoy a chocolate-covered frozen banana. This is what the Bluth Company got its start selling in Arrested Development, which is also set in Los Angeles.
    • The Jimi Hendrix song "Third Stone from the Sun", found on Are You Experienced, is referenced with the line "The Boards' new album will make Jimi Hendrix want to listen to surf music again". (It should be noted that the line being referenced, "And you'll never hear surf music again", was not actually a Take That!; it was his sly way of encouraging Dick Dale to get better. Dale did, and later covered the song.)
  • Spiritual Successor:
    • Can be seen as an unrelated prequel to Vineland.
    • It is also, in some ways, one to The Big Lebowski, as it has as its protagonist a hippie No-Respect Guy who's stoned most of the time, but nonetheless a fairly competent investigator, yet nonetheless ultimately ends up being something of a Pinball Protagonist. They're also, of course, both set in L.A., and they're both strongly influenced by noir detective novels, especially The Big Sleep.
  • The Stoner: Doc and a lot of his friends and neighbours. Even his parents. Basically everyone in the book.