Sentimental Surrealist's Reviews > Vineland

Vineland by Thomas Pynchon
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For as big of a fall from Pynchon's first three novels as it is, and for as massive as an improvement as follow-ups were, it's hard to really stay mad at Vineland. While V. and The Crying of Lot 49 were fine novels in their own right, they also seem to function as lead-ups to Gravity's Rainbow, far and away the peak of early-period Pynchon, and arguably all of Pynchon's career, although Mason and Dixon puts up a good challenge in that regard. After you've hit your peak, where is there to go but down?

I'm probably making Vineland out to seem like a weaker novel than it really is, and it has its problems, true. It butts up against being a little too paranoid, its issues with government, authority, etc. threatening to cross from the well-informed screeds of Gravity's Rainbow to "hippies vs. THE MAN." The characters never really take off in the same way that Tyrone Slothrop, Oedipa Maas, Benny Profane, or later creations like Pynchon's reinterpreted Mason and Dixon or hell, even Doc Spordello and Bigfoot Bjornsen do. The pacing is weirdly lurching, and while some of the digressions are all sorts of fun, others just aren't as interesting as they'd been in the past. And the TV subplot is a little too "WAKE UP, SHEEPLE" for my liking.

Still, isn't a fundamental part of Pynchon's charm in the fact that he walks the line between genius and kook? Isn't the whole point of him that it's hard to tell where the one ends and the other begins? Besides, Vineland has a lot going for it, if you accept that the pleasures here are more modest than those found within GR. A lot of the things Pynchon usually does well are done well here: it's funny, both with the one-liners and the absurd situations, the bizarro-world L.A., full of ninjas and death cults, is a terrifically constructed universe (Neal Stephenson would build a cult following on this sort of thing in just a few years), and Pynchon's prose is magnificent as ever.

So it's not an exceptional novel, but what goes up has got to come down, and given that Pynchon had just ascended to the literary stratosphere, this could've been a much bigger fall than it was. Besides, it's easy for me to imagine that there are a good half-dozen incomplete prospective fourth Pynchon novels strewn around the good man's study, and while some are probably better, some are probably also too much like GR to justify publication. So let's split the difference and call this either a modest success rather than a noble failure, why don't we?
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Reading Progress

March 13, 2013 – Shelved
May 20, 2013 – Shelved as: contemporary
May 20, 2013 – Shelved as: comedy
May 20, 2013 – Shelved as: literature
May 20, 2013 – Shelved as: postmodernism
June 11, 2013 – Shelved as: humor
June 11, 2013 – Shelved as: thomas-pynchon
December 3, 2013 – Shelved as: on-the-docket
May 4, 2014 – Started Reading
May 4, 2014 –
page 71
14.79%
May 5, 2014 –
page 164
34.17% "Strikes me as the forerunner to classic Simpsons."
May 6, 2014 –
page 252
52.5% "Strikes me as the forerunner to classic Simpsons."
May 7, 2014 –
page 371
77.29% "I like it and all, but it feels like Pynchon has been here before."
May 7, 2014 –
page 408
85.0%
May 8, 2014 – Finished Reading
May 9, 2014 – Shelved as: get-a-job-hippie
May 9, 2014 – Shelved as: good-but-nothing-special
May 9, 2014 – Shelved as: who-are-you-calling-paranoid
May 9, 2014 – Shelved as: would-you-look-at-this-mess
May 9, 2014 – Shelved as: someone-here-is-lying
December 14, 2014 – Shelved as: collection

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