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Vineland by Thomas Pynchon

Vineland (original 1990; edition 1990)

by Thomas Pynchon

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3,356292,354 (3.58)130
Authors:Thomas Pynchon
Info:Little Brown and Company (1990), Paperback
Collections:Your library

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Vineland by Thomas Pynchon (1990)



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Showing 1-5 of 27 (next | show all)
Full immersion required. The King of Dependent Clauses demands submission to his will. And I give my consent so, you know, whatever happens between us is legal and its nobody else's business. If you are familiar with TP, then you already know what to expect. If not, then allow me to suggest the dividing line between whether you will like Vineland or not; it's really simple: reading TP requires extra mental effort, or, in other words, there is a barrier one must pass through before the escapism of its art can be enjoyed. (That, and his penchant for bawdy humor and situations might be off-putting for some.)

At its heart, though, this story is about a teen girl — a daughter of '60s drug activists who see drug usage as, among other things, a path to enlightenment and a tool of rebellion against The Man — abandoned as a toddler by her mother, trying to discover who she is, triangulating between the guiding lights, some crazier than others, of her extended family while on the run from a malevolent anti-drug force that seems omniscient and subversive, causing her to sift through the psychic burden of becoming, of trying to make sense of Something - Life - of which the purpose of cannot be reduced, at any level, to anything approaching an unassailable position unless one allows oneself to die even while remaining to perambulate on this Earth.

That's as far as I'll go trying to describe a wonderfully intricate plot with a fractal depth that would take me more than 385 pages to elucidate. Just read it for yourself. ( )
  ReneEldaBard | Oct 15, 2018 |
Vineland is downplayed by Pynchon fans and completely ignored by curious newbies, who tend to pass over it in favour either of the big-game status of one of his doorstop meganovels, or of the appealing slenderness of The Crying of Lot 49. Shame. All his gifts and his mysteries are on display here, wrapped up in one of his most enjoyable, inexplicable, and lushly all-enveloping plots. Rereading it now, I’m more convinced than ever that it’s terribly underrated.

The essential storyline, if there is one, concerns the quest of fourteen-year-old Prairie to find her long-lost mother Frenesi, a hippy-chick revolutionary turned government informer, who has left a string of lovesick boys and girls wherever she’s been. But around this kernel Pynchon deposits layer upon layer of sub-plots, super-plots, side-plots and inter-plots until you are wading thigh-deep through new characters, new locations, new sensations, on every page.

It reads chaotically, but the chaos is intricately plotted. Pynchon is doing twenty things at once in this book, and all of them brilliantly. Prairie’s story is set in the 1980s, but the key events in Frenesi’s life happened fifteen or twenty years before that – and what Vineland is really about is what happened to that generation. How the counterculture kids of the 1960s turned into the Reagan voters of the 1980s. In that sense it’s a political novel.

OK, a political novel, all right – but that doesn’t really explain the experience of this book, does it? Because along the way we have a psychic detective investigating a Godzilla attack, we have a UFO abduction during a passenger flight to Hawaii, we have a community of kunoichi, or female ninjas, in the Californian hills, a political prison deep in a nuclear fallout shelter, a Tokyo sex auction, a community of zombie-ghosts, and a potted history of mallrats. Often these incidents are slipped in obliquely, so that you put the book down blinking, as though coming up from hypnosis, thinking vaguely – did I really read that…? Did I get that impression from the words on the page, or was I imagining something on my own initiative? Pynchon is a master at palming ideas off unseen, adding more and more dependent clauses to his sentences, pushing the key information further and further down, so that it seeps in through a kind of osmosis and, though you understand what he’s talking about, you don’t quite recall being told.

This sense of fluidity is abetted by his extraordinary ability to slip-'n'-slide time and place when you least expect it, jumping in and out of different timezones without the usual formalities but without, also, any jarringly ‘experimental’ effects. Have a look at what happens during this conversation sometime in the 1970s, where Prairie’s dad Zoyd is talking to a friend about finding somewhere to stay near Frenesi’s family:

“On the one hand, you don’t want this turning into your mother-in-law’s trip, on the other hand, they might know about someplace to crash, if so don’t forget your old pal, a garage, a woodshed, a outhouse, don’t matter, ’s just me and Chloe.”

“Chloe your dog? Oh yeah, you brought her up?”

“Think she’s pregnant. Don’t know if it happened here or down south.” But they all turned out to look like their mother, and each then went on to begin a dynasty in Vineland, from among one of whose litters, picked out for the gleam in his eye, was to come Zoyd and Prairie’s dog, Desmond. By that time Zoyd had found a piece of land with a drilled well up off Vegetable Road, bought a trailer from a couple headed back to L.A., and was starting to put together a full day’s work…

Whoa, whoa, whoa, did you catch that? We just panned down to the dog for half a sentence, and before you know it we’ve followed two generations of puppies all the way through a quick ten years, so that Pynchon can now sleight-of-hand straight into a conversation in the '80s without having to do any ponderous throat-clearing of the ‘Several years later…’ variety. He pulls this shit on every page and he is GOOD at it. Most of them you won’t even notice.

Pynchon’s women, as always, are cool and concupiscent, but the horniness is balanced here – uniquely in his oeuvre – by having a wry female protagonist who is never sexualised. Prairie is unflappable, observant, the writing never patronises her – she’s one of the great teenage girls in fiction.

Frenesi, by contrast, is the archetypal Pynchonic femme fatale, replaying the author’s usual paranoid sexual fantasy of how nice girls just can’t resist the manly charms of the Asshole King, who goes here by the name of Brock Vond, a federal neofascist who’s eagerly prosecuting the Republicans’ War on Drugs. A lot of people who discuss Vineland find Frenesi’s motivation implausible – would she really throw everything away, her politics, her principles, her daughter, just because she can’t stop fucking this guy? And is Pynchon really going to hinge his entire Heath Robinson plot on such a flimsy velleity?

Yeah, he is, and the book doesn’t get enough credit for playing such a calculated move. ‘I’m not some pure creature,’ Frenesi agonises at one point, during a painful imagined break-up with a girlfriend who put her on the usual pedestal – ‘you know what happens when my pussy’s runnin' the show…’ It’s a dynamic played out in almost all his books, but the collateral resonances are nowhere made more obvious, the D/S overtones in her submission to Brock prefiguring something essential about what happened to her whole generation:

Brock Vond’s genius was to have seen in the activities of the sixties left not threats to order but unacknowledged desires for it.

There’s the whole novel in a sentence. Does Pynchon believe it? Say rather that it’s his secret fear. That’s why it’s necessary for it to play out on the interpersonal level too, which pretty soon, given his characters, comes round to some kind of Sylvia Plathlike every-woman-adores-a-fascist deal.

Vineland is infused with a genuine, unfashionable nostalgia for the acid dreams of the Sixties, but a nostalgia tempered by the resolve to assess the roots of its failures as time went by and ‘revolution went blending into commerce’. Against these incursions all he can offer are the tried and tested defences of sex, drugs, and rock 'n' roll.

Mucho went to the stereo and put on The Best of Sam Cooke, volumes 1 and 2, and then they sat together and listened, both of them, to the sermon, one they knew and felt their hearts comforted by, though outside spread the lampless wastes, the unseen paybacks, the heartless power of the scablands garrison state the green free America of their childhoods even then was turning into.

You can sink into this book and swim in it, and the pages will close up over your head. It’s just beautifully made – hilarious and sexy and sad and constantly provocative. And it has more to say about what the 1980s were really about than any number of Brett Easton Ellis or Martin Amis or Jonathan Coe novels can manage. Perhaps it’s not objectively his best book, but it is, for my money, his most fun. ( )
4 vote Widsith | Nov 17, 2017 |
read this for uni and it was a chore and a half ( )
  Heldin | Oct 15, 2017 |
60. Vineland by Thomas Pynchon
Published: 1990
format: 385 page paperback
acquired: 2007 from the annual Houston Public Library book sale
read: Sep 9-23
rating: 3 stars

Back when I bought this I had only a vague idea of who Pynchon was. I was excited to get this book, then disappointed to learn that no one actually likes it. (That's an exaggeration. There is a nice review here) But, I'm reading all of Pynchon (maybe) and this was next. And, I was intrigued that this was Pynchon's first new work in 17 years, even if it takes place in 1984, only 6 years before publication. Mason & Dixon was in progress and Vineland was maybe something extra Pynchon did as he worked through that. In any case, I never did get into it.

In a lot of ways this is a sequel to The Crying of Lot 49. Like TCoL49, it takes place in California, and is a somewhat unclear emotional response to US political realities. TCoL49 was about the JFK assassination (not that I could have told you that from reading the book). Vineland is about the revolutionary spirit of the sixties and it's reactionary counter under Nixon...and about the fallout of all that years later.

There are universal Pynchon characteristics - there is the low-key Pynchon alter-ego non-hero. Here it's a unemployed, hapless musician Zoid Wheeler. And there is Pynchon wackiness, here a bit forced in the form of a rush-trained and somewhat flawed ninja, and a whole community of generally charming un-dead, the thanatoids.

The novel begins with Zoid, who lives cooped up in the forests of northern California, supported by government checks for a faked mental instability the requires him to annually jump through a window. He raises his 14-yr-old daughter Prairie in a self-built home, and continually mourns for her mother, Frenesi Gates. Frenesi (Spanish for frenzy) lived him for maybe two years, had sexual flings of some intensity, then divorced him and then disappeared. And Zoid is ever enraptured.

Frenesi is the novel's centerpiece and captivates everyone, maybe a variation on V. She crossed the divide of late 1960's between left-wing revolutionaries and the Nixonian conservative governmental crackdown. She was deeply involved with a revolutionary group whose colorful characters may or may not make up for the fact that I never understood what their aims were, while becoming a traitor in cooperation with a rogue FBI agent, mock unstoppable stud-hero Brock Vond. She had a lot of sex with Vond and a key revolutionary, falling hard for Vond. The fallout of her actions leads to Zoid and then to a witness protection program (and another partner and another child). Unfortunately for her and Vond, Reagan cuts funding and sets the events of 1984 in motion. Zoid's jealousy hurts, but he's such a small extra in Frenesi's story, that it really comes to nothing. But Prairie, the girl longing for her mother, provides a more human emotional source that we readers can sympathize with.

My take on Pynchon is that he wants to find a human element while maintaining a satirical distance and an underlying seriousness. This is something he managed in V. and Gravity's Rainbow. Unlike those novels, this one is pretty straight-forward and actually an easy read. I could name a few apparent flaws - the rushed, dull, hundred pages filling up on the background of secondary characters, and the general lack of narrative drive. At the end of the book the writing wanders more on the sentence level, and the book slows down and actually gets way more interesting. Pynchon seems to do best when incorporating so much vast complexities and details, that he obscures other problems with the narrative. ( )
4 vote dchaikin | Sep 25, 2016 |
My first Pynchon and I loved it. It takes about 100 pages to really get into the rhythm because the sentences are pages long and sometimes hard to remember how they started. Also the bookend plot is the least interesting. But I loved the genre-melding pieces about DL, ninjas, the Yakuza and the 60s sets were great too. Mostly, I appreciate Pynchon's complex, imperfect but very real female characters. He writes great women and understands the choices women make and why they may or may not choose to sacrifice what they do. ( )
1 vote ltfitch1 | Jun 5, 2016 |
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Every dog has his day,
and a good dog
just might have two days.
—Johnny Copeland
For my mother and father
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Later than usual one summer morning in 1984, Zoyd Wheeler drifted awake in sunlight through a creeping fig that hung in the window, with a squadron of blue jays stomping around on the roof.
Downtown, in the Greyhound station, Zoyd put Prairie on top of a pinball machine with a psychedelic motif, called Hip Trip, and was able to keep winning free games till the Vineland bus got in from L.A. This baby was a great fan of the game, liked to lie face down on the glass, kick her feet, and squeal at the full sensuous effect, especially when bumpers got into prolonged cycling or when her father got manic with the flippers, plus the gongs and lights and colors always going off. "Enjoy it while you can," he muttered at his innocent child, "while you're light enough for that glass to support you."
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Follows the orbits of old acquaintances headed for a less than harmonic convergence in Northern California in 1984.

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