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Editorial Reviews

This book is a classic Pynchon novel — except that it's completely accessible, unlike his actual classic, Gravity's Rainbow. Rolling Stone's Rob Sheffield titled his review of Inherent Vice "The Bigger Lebowski", and this is absolutely the truth, convincingly supported by the fact that Ron McLarty's voice work here could easily be mistaken for Jeff Bridges. Pynchon's hippie hero is Larry "Doc" Sportello, a private dick whose skills of detection are not so much hard-boiled as drug-addled. McLarty's low, gritty tones are a perfect fit for Doc's pot-smoked antics in this filmic noir.

When Sportello's ex-girlfriend turns to him for help in anticipation of her billionaire boyfriend's future kidnapping, things quickly and naturally get complicated in the winter of 1970. Let's just say it involves a motley crew of surfers, strippers, junkies, scammers, hippies, and loonies, a shady posse known as the Golden Fang that are either mafioso or dentists, 20 kilos of heroin, and a coffin full of funny money with Nixon's face on it. Of course, the Sherlock Holmes to Doc's Watson and also the perpetual rain on his parade is straight-laced cop cowboy Bigfoot Bjornsen. Bigfoot and Doc's fundamentally different worldviews put them in constant conflict on the same case, leaning on one another while stepping on each other's toes. McLarty doesn't miss a beat in his portrayal of their hilarious and timeless debate between authoritarianism and communalism.

There are trademark Pynchon motifs throughout the story that devotees of the author will be glad to see. The Southern California setting is where Pynchon is at his very best, and his deep knowledge of music is definitely in evidence. McLarty is even forced to sing several surf rock tunes, which he does with surprising alacrity. There is the author's usual consideration of race wars and imperialism, where McLarty does convincing Hispanic and Asia-Pacific accents of various kinds common to the region. There is the extensive set of acronyms and anagrams, where McLarty somehow manages not to laugh while referring to things like the hippy-busting cop squad known as "P-DIDdies", short for "Public Disorder Intelligence Division".

This is Pynchon at his most readable, and he sticks to driving the plot with relatively few digressions. Still, this is also Pynchon at his most recognizable. Though the tale is finely tuned to resemble such cult gems as The Big Lebowski, no other author could have cranked it out quite so colorfully. Thomas Pynchon isn't taking any easy outs with this one. He took a beloved story and crafted a fleshy parallel, which Ron McLarty lovingly gives voice to a style that will not disappoint even the most die-hard fans of either Pynchon or Lebowski. —Megan Volpert

Publisher's Summary

Part noir, part psychedelic romp, all Thomas Pynchon.

Private eye Doc Sportello comes, occasionally, out of a marijuana haze to watch the end of an era as free love slips away and paranoia creeps in with the L.A. fog.

It's been awhile since Doc has seen his ex-girlfriend. Suddenly, out of nowhere, she shows up with a story about a plot to kidnap a billionaire land developer whom she just happens to be in love with. Easy for her to say.

It's the tail end of the psychedelic sixties in L.A., and Doc knows that "love" is another of those words going around at the moment, like "trip" or "groovy", except that this one usually leads to trouble. Despite that, he soon finds himself drawn into a bizarre tangle of motives and passions whose cast of characters includes surfers, hustlers, dopers and rockers, a murderous loan shark, a tenor sax player working undercover, an ex-con with a swastika tattoo and a fondness for Ethel Merman, and a mysterious entity known as the Golden Fang, which may only be a tax dodge set up by some dentists....

©2009 Thomas Pynchon (P)2009 Penguin Audio

Critic Reviews

" 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. It has the moral fury that's fueled his work from the start - his ferociously batshit compassion for America and the lost tribes who wander through it." ( Rolling Stone)
Inherent Vice is Thomas Pynchon doing Raymond Chandler through a Jim Rockford looking glass, starring Cheech Marin (or maybe Tommy Chong). What could easily be mistaken as a paean to 1960s Southern California is also a sly herald of that era's end. This, of course, is exactly the kind of layered meaning that readers expect of Pynchon... With Pynchon's brilliance comes readability." ( Los Angeles Times)
"A Great American Read-a terrific pastiche of California noir, wonderfully amusing throughout (and hard to quote from in a family newspaper because of the frequent use of, uh, colorful spoken language) and a poignant evocation of the last flowering of the '60s, just before everything changed and passed into myth or memory." ( Washington Post)

What members say

Average Customer Ratings

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  • Overall
    5 out of 5 stars

If you enjoyed The Crying of Lot 49...

If you enjoyed The Crying of Lot 49, then Inherent Vice is right up your alley. It follows the same kind of surreal yet linear structure of Pynchon's more accessible works, and, like The Crying of Lot 49, you will probably find that several passes are required to digest the novel. The best description I can give of the nature of Inherent Vice is that it is the kind of book you could imagine Hunter S. Thompson writing if he had any gift for fiction. It is an excellent piece of literature.

13 of 13 people found this review helpful

  • Overall
    4 out of 5 stars

Fun Pynchon, don't be afraid

This is a rather un-Pynchon-like Pynchon, but very good. The "plot" echoes Crying of Lot 49 a little and there are allusions to other novels, Vineland, Against the Day, Gravity's Rainbow, but they are unobtrusive nods, and the story is very linear and enjoyable. Think Big Lebowski crossed with a noir-ish mystery, a little Chinatown, a little Big Sleep..etc. There are some funny moments along the way and the plot gets convoluted like the old noirs, but the stoned surfer type detective and the dialogue is really what's of interest. There are plenty of allusions and puns and word plays, but again not for the most part obtrusive. There are many Pynchonesque themes ( paranoia enhanced perhaps by the drugs; entropy; and communication; and mechanization/computerization; government conspiracy) but these won't get in the way for non-Pynchon-ers. I found myself getting nostalgic with all the late 60's pop-culture references to movies and television shows and music of the time. Gravity's Rainbow is another kettle of fish entirely. Lot 49 is also very accessible and even V., and i'm looking forward to Against the Day to see which way it leans, Gravity or Vice.

16 of 17 people found this review helpful

  • Overall
    4 out of 5 stars
  • Performance
    5 out of 5 stars
  • Story
    4 out of 5 stars

Big Lebowski-esque with a great narrator

It's so rare to find a narrator who sings. I loved Ron McLarty's narration on this one. The story itself was complex and engaging without being too dense. It took me deeper than the usual detective story, in a very satisfying way. It didn't inspire me to download more Pynchon right away, but even though it didn't go on my priority wish list I'll definitely listen to more Pynchon and McLarty in the future.

6 of 6 people found this review helpful

  • Overall
    5 out of 5 stars

Terrific romp through the 60's

This is one of the of the best audiobooks I've ever heard. It..like...totally paints a picture of a time and subculture that's now long gone. There is a plot, and it's pretty good once it gets going. The real genius is in the depiction of roaringly funny chararacters and situations from a drug hazed version of the 60's. The narrator completely nails all of the the characters voices. Just hearing him earnestly singing the author's absolutely excreble, hilarious song lyrics, which somehow work their way into the story is worth the credit alone. The book is a great satirical send up of the 60's, complete with hallucinations, bad driving, hippies, the FBI, biker gangs, and sinister corporations all mashed togther. Don't let what you hear about the author's reputation as an inaccessible "Great American Writer" throw you off, this is great fun.

6 of 6 people found this review helpful

  • Overall
    5 out of 5 stars
  • Performance
    5 out of 5 stars
  • Story
    5 out of 5 stars
  • D
  • Coconut Grove, FL, United States
  • 10-10-12

It's what you can't avoid...

This is probably the single best audiobook I’ve gotten from Audible. The narraration is exceptional, I very much wish this reader would also record Pynchon’s earlier novel Vineland. McLarty’s performance of the songs is all one could ask for, the many characters are distinctly rendered, and he simply breathes the rhythm of the prose. The story itself is Pynchon’s most accessible, relatively short and with an ideal balance of straightforward plotting offset with the characteristic comic digressions that one expects from the author. If you haven’t tried him before, this is a good place to start.

8 of 9 people found this review helpful

  • Overall
    4 out of 5 stars
  • Performance
    4 out of 5 stars
  • Story
    4 out of 5 stars

Surf Noir, man.

Ok, ok, I get the negative reviews. There's lots of stuff about the '60s. There's lots of talk about drugs and talking by people on drugs. If it's going to turn you off, skip this one. Comparisons with The Big Lebowski are justified, but IV’s got a lot more going on than just a spaced out protagonist.

Doc, the main character, is a Private Investigator who works a lot of free cases but manages to get by. But he's more than a cliché PI who’s a sucker for a pair of legs and a pouty lip. Pynchon neither subscribes to nor ignores cliché. He plays with it. He uses it, from blonde jokes to stoner metaphysics, as postmodern documentation of a society that would have such clichés.

It’s America and the end of an era. The Civil Rights movement has become a caricature of itself, as increasing government power and surveillance methods begin to attack Civil Rights in new ways. Is this the paranoid delusion of washed out surfer hippies, or something more? Will this ARPAnet someday grow into something all-pervasive, all-knowing?

This is no Cheech and Chong meets Bogart. It’s more Mark Twain meets Umberto Eco.

Lost worlds, secret organizations, zombies, crooked cops, biker gangs, and (of course) dentists are packaged in with the sex, drugs, and Rock ’n’ Roll.

It’s a fantastic, wonderful ride.

2 of 2 people found this review helpful

  • Overall
    3 out of 5 stars
  • Performance
    3 out of 5 stars
  • Story
    3 out of 5 stars

A serious comic mystery. Wait for the movie?

This book is hard to classify. You might call it a comic mystery, but I didn't find it all that funny. It does accurately reflect a certain time (late 1960's) and place (Southern California beach towns) and the business and brutal side of the drug culture. Various characters, including the PI, "Doc" Sportello, reminded me of an amalgam of "Fabulous Furry Freak Brothers," comic book characters from the early 1970's. At one point, Doc recites their favorite line: "Dope will get you through times of no money better than money will get you through times of no dope." They had no ambition other than to smoke dope and try psychedelic drugs (other than heroin), a little like Doc. He appears to be smart but views the world through a continual marijuana haze. It gets tiresome after a while. There are too many characters and side detours, at least for me, who only listens in the car while commuting or shopping. His dialog with the "honest cop," Bigfoot Bjornsen, contrasts their different life styles and philosophies, but eventually, it too seems to grow stale. One does sense a mutual respect.

The narrator does a pretty good job handling the myriad challenges of the book, but sometimes, I couldn't distinguish a character by his/her voice. Altogether, a mixed bag.

I gather a film of the same name will be released in 2014, starring Joaquin Phoenix as "Doc." It'll no doubt be simplified and easier to understand. It'll be interesting to see whether I will like it better than the audiobook.

2 of 2 people found this review helpful

  • Overall
    5 out of 5 stars

Fantastic Fun

Wow! I thoroughly enjoyed listening to this. I started reading the book and wanted the audible version for my commute. What a surprise to hear the superb voice of Ron McLarty! I sort of recognized his name when I selected this title, but it wasn't until I listened that I recognized the voice from one of my all-time-favorite recorded books, Steinbeck's Travels with Charley. McLarty's reading made this Pynchon audiobook a great companion on the road.
Inherent Vice is great fun. A wonderfully large cast of characters, a heartfelt nostalgia for good hippie karma, rich cultural allusions and historical Los Angeles combine to make this book one of my favorites. I have read most of Pynchon's stuff, and I don't care much about where this fits into his oeuvre--as better than or as good as, or not. What matters to me is that what I have always liked about Pynchon's work, the language, the pop-culture playfulness, the paranoia, the deep conspiracy of control, is utilized in Inherent Vice to spin the detective genre in complex and delightful ways.
What a blast!

2 of 2 people found this review helpful

  • Overall
    4 out of 5 stars

An Everyman Pynchon

Whether you loved it, hated it or never even knew about it before, Pynchon artfully captures SoCal in the late sixties as it begins to fade into media pastiches and the fogged memories of those who were there at the time. As always Ron McLarty does a superb job of narration. Not my favorite Pynchon but a great read.

5 of 6 people found this review helpful

  • Overall
    1 out of 5 stars
  • Performance
    4 out of 5 stars
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    1 out of 5 stars

What a snore!

i don't really understand how this book has any great or even mediocre reviews. It is horrible. Performance okay. Story dull. I just don't care. I have given it hours and hours and have even kicked up the speed to see if the story would eventually hook me. It hasn't. These stoner characters bore me to tears. I do not care about them even a TINY bit. Do NOT waste a credit. The narrator is fine. The material is what I would imagine taking bad drugs would be like ....

1 of 1 people found this review helpful