Jimmy's Reviews > Vineland

Vineland by Thomas Pynchon
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's review
Feb 12, 2009

it was ok
bookshelves: fiction
Read in February, 2009

I had a preconceived notion of what just how good Vineland would be before I read it. My opinions about the book have been influenced by numerous accounts of how weak it was. After having read everything that preceded Pynchon's fourth novel, it's still difficult for me to wholeheartedly disagree, even though I thoroughly enjoyed some parts of it. It made me laugh...but even though I wasn't an avid fan when it was published in 1990, I still couldn't help wonder why this was the book that Pynchon decided to put out there seventeen years after Gravity's Rainbow. The basic sentiment stands; it's inevitable that anything that he had published after Gravity's Rainbow would pale in comparison. That novel is wonderful, and despite my inability to explain exactly why it is, I have a hard time sincerely saying that his subsequent effort really matched up at all. So there it is, I've said it. I've been influenced by descriptions of Vineland, as well as my preconceived expectation for utter disappointment, and now I have to talk about it. However, Salman Rushdie seemed to have enjoyed it. His NYT review is glowing with beatnick-pastiche zeal.

Vineland basically begins with Zoyd Wheeler, a burnt-out "generic long-hair" who is preparing to do his annual publicity stunt (jumping through the window of a bar) in order to cash in on his disability check issued by the government. His old arch-nemesis Hector Zuniga shows up looking for his old lady, Frenesi Gates, and is wondering; will Zoyd help the FBI and the DEA please find out where she is? His daughter Prairie is interested, as much as a young daughter could be in her counterculture/hippie/anarchist/ filmmaker mother. The narrative unfolds through old friends explaining Frenesi's tumultuous political existence to her estranged daughter.

It's in this context that Pynchon covers a lot of ground. What follows is basically a critique of both the Nixon and Reagan years. It's mostly vitriol too, as Pynchon has obviously been harboring in many of these views since finishing Gravity's Rainbow. As usual, it isn't unbalanced because he makes a point of addressing the fact that the hippie movement had failed due to the way that this particular historical revolution had been sublimated by popular culture, television, drugs, rock and roll music, etc. This is all thanks to the American government, and a point that Pynchon wants to stress throughout the book.

How is it though? I don't know. Maybe if I had read it when it just came out in 1990? Hunter S. Thomspon's Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas covers the same ground, as well as countless other authors. Whether or not I actually have read enough about the 60's, I simply feel like I know too much about this point in history, and that my knowledge of which has been negatively influenced by romantic cliches. Most of Vineland's pomo zaniness feels stilted, due to this particular style being heavily exploited throughout the early nineties. Pynchon's tone and style seem weak throughout, making Vineland sound, at times, like someone ghostwriting for him. It just lacks the acerbic wit and humor that all of his previous novels embody. I don't think I need to remind too many people that the Crying of Lot 49 covered the same historical period in time with a little more...character.

Is it great Pynchon, no. Is it bad Pynchon, no. It's just Pynchon, and personally that is a statment that I would like to avoid using.
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Reading Progress

01/27 page 90
02/03 marked as: read
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Comments (showing 1-26 of 26) (26 new)

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Joshua Nomen-Mutatio I read the first chapter back while working at Bargain Books. It was mildy funny. Never resumed reading it though.

message 2: by Jesse (new)

Jesse how is this so far? i have also read the first chapter and i thought it was really funny, but i just never read the rest. so i'm interested in what you think on it. you can wait till you finish if you want and i'll just read the review, thanks!

message 3: by Jimmy (last edited Feb 07, 2009 07:16PM) (new) - rated it 2 stars

Jimmy It has highs and lows so far. More lows than highs though. I feel like I'm forcing an interest in reading it all the way through. It isn't difficult to follow, but...well, it's mainly dealing with 60's counterculture, which I personally don't find to be a compelling backdrop. Parts are pretty funny. I supposed that it isn't bad, and I'll finish, but I definitely think that it's his weakest effort. And I have no doubt that Mason and Dixon is probably one of his best.

message 4: by Nate D (new)

Nate D It seems like this is the overlooked Pynchon novel, whether with good cause or not I have yet to ascertain.

Jimmy Believe me, so far it's with good cause. I'll have much more to say about that.

Joshua Nomen-Mutatio Yikes, two stars...

message 7: by Jimmy (last edited Feb 10, 2009 01:22PM) (new) - rated it 2 stars

Jimmy Yeah, I know. Let's just say that Vineland made me think of something (dare I say it?) that Tom Robbins might have written, and that guy is a fucking moron. Maybe I'm just reaching that point of hypercritical, fanboy expectation, but I really just did not like Vineland that much. I feel like I need to argue my point (pretty damn well) soon.

Joshua Nomen-Mutatio I really can't remember why I never resumed reading this after the first chapter...probably no good reason really, because I thought the whole publicity stunt thing was hilarious. But I didn't know jackshit about Pynchon back then either, so maybe I'd just grabbed it on a fluke and set it down and got distracted by something else. I was high all of the time back then, working at that book store, maybe it had something to do with that...

Jimmy It's definitely funny. My judgements essentially suffer from a mild lack of interest.

I sort of miss being high all of the time.

message 10: by Joshua Nomen-Mutatio (last edited Feb 12, 2009 10:36AM) (new)

Joshua Nomen-Mutatio I find it to be much more fun as an occasional treat these days. Getting stoned that is. I think I mentioned to you that I was high while driving around with Hupp listening to the new Animal Collective album cranked up real loud...that was a real treat.

Jimmy No, but that sounds fabulous. I don't really get stoned anymore, but maybe we should do this several times in Austin?

Joshua Nomen-Mutatio Yeah, it's quite likely. Almost inevitable, I'd say.

Jimmy I've actually been having recurring dreams about how fucked up I'm going to get that weekend.

message 14: by Joshua Nomen-Mutatio (last edited Feb 12, 2009 10:50AM) (new)

Joshua Nomen-Mutatio Ha! I had a dream about ya'll (I'm southern now) coming down as well, it just took this really weird and frightening turn where Drew and I were attacked by beautiful robots, but Drew figured out how to disable them by waving his hand in front of their faces, then we leapt out of a tall building...

I'm really excited to see everybody though. I realized the other day that you and I haven't been in one anothers physical presence for 5 years. Isn't that crazy? Both that it's been that long and that the time we hung out in Chicago was 5 years ago? Time flying...light speed...well, we'll be breaking that fast in less than a month. It'll be good.

Jimmy Yeah, at least five or six.

In this dream, it was you, Hupp, Drew, and Brad, sitting at that table at the country club in Bottle Rocket. We were all jokingly introducing ourselves. Then I suggested that we all get "shithoused", and none of us could stop laughing. It was laughter to a Lynchian degree. It sort of didn't stop.

Joshua Nomen-Mutatio That's hilarious and scary, yes...Lynchian. Well, yr havin' dream premonitions, Jim, cuz we gonna git shithoused to the sky!

I'm pretty sure a little over 5 years, as I'm pretty sure it was the winter of very late '04/very early '05.

Joshua Nomen-Mutatio Shithoused to the moon! Shithoused through the roof!

Jimmy Cold chillin'...Shithoused! Shoused! Shithousesoussaucyfuckeduplitshit!

message 19: by Troy (new) - rated it 3 stars

Troy Hey Jimmy.

It's been years since I've read Vineland and I never really finished it, even though I tried to read it twice.

But I have to back up. I tried to read Gravity's Rainbow in college, but never finished. A few years later, I tried again, and I LOVED it. For me, it was the literary equivalent of South Park: smutty, irreverent, funny, and erudite, but a thousand times more intelligent, and with a more devious sense of the outlandish and gross. I loved it so much that I wanted to read everything by Pynchon. V. was next, and it did not disappoint. It was easier to read than Gravity's Rainbow and had an actual plot structure. It wasn't as funny, or as brilliant, but it was great. Then I read The Crying of Lot 49 which was an odd gem and which I loved. And then...


Which bored me.

I thought it was trying too hard. It reminded me of a really bad Bugs Bunny rip-off, zany but uninteresting and boring in its kinetic whirlwind. I hated it, so I put it down.

A year or so later, I tried again. I loved the part about "transfenestration" vs. "defenestration" but I still hated the book. I hated it so much that I skipped Mason Dixon and ignored Pynchon until Against the Day. I loved that book (but I also love that time period) and will finally start Mason Dixon , but I doubt I'll ever re-try Vineland.

Jimmy I miss you, Josh.

And yes, Vineland basically sucks. I might get my hands on an AR of Inherent Vice. I'm too fucking excited about that.

message 21: by Nate D (last edited Feb 13, 2009 08:41AM) (new)

Nate D From what I've heard, M&D was the return to form after years and years of only Vineland. Which I'm definitely leaving for last. And I can't say that the premise of Inherent Vice (or cover art, gah) really has me that excited, but I'm still just happy to see him so productive. It's been what, only 3 years? Amazing.

message 22: by Jimmy (last edited Mar 04, 2011 12:23PM) (new) - rated it 2 stars

Jimmy Yeah, about that long. Personally, I loved Against the Day. One of his best, despite what a lot of critics had to say about it. It seemed like the usual suspects (Birkerts, Moore, Tabbi, etc.) were the only ones who had positive things to say about it.

I was somewhat disappointed when I read the NYT blog about Inherent Vice because I'm not too thrilled about the premise either. I hope it bares more similarities to Altman's the Long Goodbye, as opposed to Vineland and the Crying of Lot 49.

message 23: by Nate D (new)

Nate D I'm actually reading Against the Day right now. I'm really enjoying it page for page, and it's frequently brilliant, but some of the pulp/genre-fiction digressions really come out of left field. Though it seems like they're partially the point, rather than digression. Pynchon's narrator is constantly winking about them, though, which may or may not help. I have to see where this is going, I think.

Joshua Nomen-Mutatio Thought this may be of interest:


Jimmy Thanks, I do like Joseph Tabbi, one of the more coherent postmodern lit-crtitics.

message 26: by Maxwell (new) - added it

Maxwell Koyama Thanks, I was really confounded by the fact that some people rate this book very highly while some theorists like Harold Bloom hate it, etc. Your review clarifies this difference of opinion.

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