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Literature / Vineland

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It would all be done with keys on alphanumeric keyboards that stood for weightless, invisible chains of electronic presence or absence. If patterns of ones and zeroes were “like” patterns of human lives and deaths, if everything about an individual could be represented in a computer record by a long strings of ones and zeroes, then what kind of creature could be represented by a long string of lives and deaths? It would have to be up one level, at least—an angel, a minor god, something in a UFO. It would take eight human lives and deaths just to form one character in this being’s name—its complete dossier might take up a considerable piece of history of the world. We are digits in God’s computer, she not so much thought as hummed to herself to sort of a standard gospel tune, And the only thing we’re good for, to be dead or to be living, is the only thing He sees. What we cry, what we contend for, in our world of toil and blood, it all lies beneath the notice of the hacker we call God.

Vineland is a 1990 novel by Thomas Pynchon, a postmodern fiction set in California, United States in 1984, the year of Ronald Reagan’s reelection. Pynchon had last explored California in The Crying of Lot 49, and he would return to it later with Inherent Vice.

The book follows Zoyd Wheeler, an aging hippie with a beautiful daughter, Prairie, collecting mental disability checks by jumping through a plate-glass window once in a year. It wasn’t until the arrival of his old nemesis, Federal Prosecutor Brock Vond, determined to kill anyone from Zoyd’s community, that Zoyd went into hiding and sent Prairie to a wedding gig with her boyfriend. And there she met someone to uncover her mother’s dark past.

Like Lot 49, it can be see as a bridge between pessimistic Pynchon and optimistic Pynchon.

It also has its own wiki here.

The novel contains examples of:

  • Adventure Duo: DL Chastain and Takeshi Fumimota.
  • Alas, Poor Villain: Brock Vond is a monster, but you can’t help sympathise with him when he was brought underground to cross the river.
    “What is it?” he asked. “Please.”
  • Book Ends: The book opens with Zoyd waking up to the sound of blue jays on the roof, and ends with Prairie waking up to Desmond licking her face, with blue jays’ feathers on his face.
  • Continuity Nod: It can be said that Vineland is the cornerstone of Pynchon’s massive universe as it tied-in with his past and future work.
    • DL meeting Prairie is similar to how V. met Mélanie in V.
    • Mucho Maas and The Paranoids from The Crying of Lot 49 appears in Zoyd’s flashback.
    • Takeshi Fumimota from Gravity's Rainbow appears as a clear-headed lunatic and partnered up with DL. She even referenced his suicidal behavior when he’s about to drink a suspected poison cocktail.
      “On second thought, drink right up, I keep forgetting, suicide used to be your old lifestyle.”
      She was referring to what he had a way of calling his “interesting work with airplanes” during World War II. “Though to be frank,” she continued, “I can’t imagine you in anybody’s air force, let alone the kamikaze, who, I understand from the history books, were fairly picky about who flew for ’em.”
    • Part of the Vineland community includes the Traverse family which was mentioned briefly in Mason & Dixon and will finally have a proper introduction and a major role in Against the Day.
    • Can be seen as an unrelated sequel to Inherent Vice with the appearance of Gordita Beach and Sledge Poteet, who is mentioned by Tariq Khalil.
  • Darker and Edgier: Although it’s not paranoid-driven, nihilistic and apocalyptic like his earlier work, Vineland is still pretty bleak and depressing when it comes to plot, even more so than Inherent Vice and Bleeding Edge.
  • Defrosting Ice Queen: DL Chastain is described as “gelid green eyes” and “personal distance with other people,” but gradually becomes more caring, emotionally vulnerable and open after meeting Takeshi Fumimota.
  • Earn Your Happy Ending: It was revealed that DL and Takeshi, some time in ’81 or ’82, that they “finally renegotiated the no-sex clause.” DL also realized “what she’d been missing those other years.” Sister Rochelle and Norleen even point out that they belong together.
    But at least on the night Brock Vond was taken across the river, the night of no white diamonds or even chicken crank, the foreign magician and blond tomato assistant, out stealing a couple of innocent hours away from the harsh demands of their Act, with its imitations of defiance, nightly and matinees, of gravity and death, only found themselves slowed to a paranoid dancers’ embrace at the unquiet center of the roadhouse party crowd, with scarcely a ’Toid here in fact even noticing them, so many kept pouring in, so much was going on.
  • End of an Age: One of the central themes of the novel. Basically due to political dispute it effects several characters and most were nostalgic about the ’60s and embittered. This theme will again be used in Inherent Vice and Bleeding Edge.
  • Faux Action Girl: DL Chastain has martial arts/kung-fu skills but she never put any physical combats on anyone but the kidnapper, but she failed anyway.
  • Fun with Acronyms: National Endowment for Video Education and Rehabilitation, etc.
  • Genre-Busting: Political thriller, Science Fiction, Supernatural fantasy, Pseudo-Martial Arts, Half-Adventure, Parody of 80s B-movies, Tragicomedy, Satire and Daytime drama.
  • Genre Roulette: As such, it changes genres throughout the book almost at every turn. See Genre-Busting for genres.
  • Lighter and Softer: Vineland is notably nostalgic, tender, sentimental and heartfelt in comparison to his earlier work, which is more pessimistic and apocalyptic.
  • Meaningful Name: Isaiah Two Four. Sledge Poteet. Prairie Wheeler. You name it.
  • Postmodernism
  • Precision F-Strike: Yelled once by Prairie when she was about to be kidnapped by Brock.
  • Spiritual Successor: Can be seen as an unrelated sequel to both The Crying of Lot 49 and Inherent Vice (even though the latter was written later).
  • Title Drop: Vineland is the name of the fictional town. While in real life, it was the name of a region.
  • Two Lines, No Waiting: Nothing new compared to Gravity’s Rainbow, but when compared to V., Vineland is hard-going, much looser and disjointed, and very all-over-the-place, with 80% of the book being flashbacks.
  • Violence Is Disturbing: And it was. Sure, some of it is played for laughs but bits like the college raid was bleak enough.
  • Unfortunate Names: Lampshaded once by Zoyd when arguing with Prairie about her boyfriend, who is named after a Bible verse.
  • Wall of Text: That quote up there is one.