Reviewing the Reviewers: Inherent Vice


Thomas Pynchon’s new novel officially comes out today, and it seems like every book critic in the world has already weighed in. The debate over the book’s merits reminds us of “The Emperor’s New Clothes.” Inherent Vice is a detective noir set in ’70s L.A.; the Times calls it Pynchon Lite, but the Wall Street Journal wonders if the book could actually be “a classic Pynchon opus masquerading as a light read.”

After reading seven different reviews, the only thing we can say with certainty is that the reviewers seem to share a lot of the same reference points. By the numbers:

References to Cheech and Chong: 2 References to Raymond Chandler: 4 References to Jim Rockford: 1 References to “The Dude”: 2

Below, we’ve excerpted and annotated key lines from each review, which we hope will help you decide whether you should read Pynchon or just talk about not having read Pynchon.

Most Informed About Literary Influences: “‘Inherent Vice’ does not appear to be a Pynchonian palimpsest of semi-obscure allusions … It’s a slightly spoofy take on hardboiled crime fiction, a story in which the characters smoke dope and watch ‘Gilligan’s Island’ instead of sitting around a night club knocking back J&Bs.” –The New Yorker

Most Cable News Splitscreen Debate Appropriate: “Branding a Thomas Pynchon novel as ‘light reading’ seems almost as far-fetched as one of the author’s hallucinatory plotlines involving time travel or a dog that reads Henry James … Is ‘Inherent Vice,’ as some Pynchon fans argue, a sophisticated parody, a classic Pynchon opus masquerading as a light read?” –WSJ Most Middlebrow: “The name ‘Thomas Pynchon’ usually evokes thoughts of a reclusive genius who every few years blesses M.F.A. hipsters and Mensa applicants with intricately layered postmodern behemoths. So it might be a shock to learn that his latest book, Inherent Vice, is, at a mere 369 pages, a relatively breezy work of genre fiction.” –EW

Most Honest About A Personal Bias Against Pynchon: “A manically incoherent pseudo-noir hippie-mystery that should fit in nicely with the author’s recent series of quirky late-career non-masterpieces … Pynchon is clearly having a postmodern blast warping the building blocks of detective fiction — causation, probability, significance, suspense.” –NYMag

Biggest Takedown: “A big, clunky time machine of a novel … it feels more like a Classic Comics version of a Pynchon novel than like the thing itself.” –NYT

Most Reasonable Defense: “Still, after getting pretty far out, ‘Inherent Vice’ eventually circles back and ties up all its loose ends. It has a climactic moment, a cushiony denouement — by gum, closure. If this stands in counterpoint to Pynchon’s most acclaimed work, perhaps we should pay heed to the novel’s title: ‘Inherent Vice’ refers to a hidden defect that undermines a property’s worth, a marine-legal term for a Shakespearean flaw. It could refer to Los Angeles; it could refer to the 1960s. Or it could refer to the author’s work itself: With Pynchon’s brilliance comes readability.” –LAT

Most Gushing:Inherent Vice is the funniest book Pynchon has written. It’s also a crazed and majestic summary of everything that makes him a uniquely huge American voice.” –RS