Thomas Pynchon, Inherent Goodness

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I’d love to lure Thomas Pynchon to Lunch on the Moon with some killer chimichangas or burritos, since I understand he likes Mexican, but I respect his space and will just blither about him for a while here.

I finally got to see the cinematic version of the Thomas Pynchon novel Inherent Vice. And it was good. Masterfully directed by Paul Thomas Anderson, the darn thing was nominated for two Oscars (Writing-Adapted Screenplay & Costume).

Not surprisingly, it has a huge cast, with potent leading characters. I can’t begin to comment on all of them, and apologize for anyone I’ve left out, but I do have to mention cameos by Maya Rudolph, Benicio del Toro, Martin Short, and Richard Nixon.

Josh Brolin stole the show, in my mind, portraying Bigfoot Bjornson. He was as big and anomalously conflicted as the originally written Pynchon character. He looks like Ol’ Flat Top, straight-arrow detective, and he’s obsessed with nailing Doc, or at least tromping on him when he can. He’s also a cop movie wannabe. I suspect Josh read the book.

Joaquin Phoenix did as good a job playing the protagonist, Doc Sportello, as he did portraying Johnny Cash in “Walk the Line,” in my estimation. He played a brooding, semispaced, quite intuitive private detective in search of Shasta, elusive mystical hippie goddess in the story.

Shasta was played by Katherine Waterson, Sam Waterson’s progeny, a brunette, said in an interview that it took her ten hours to become the natural blonde, Shasta. It was her first time on the big screen, but she was a joy to watch.

Reese Witherspoon, playing formidable D.A., Penny Kimball, reunites with Phoenix again after their stint together a decade ago in “Walk the Line.” She secretly desires Doc’s free life . . . lightly engaging with him in an affair of sorts. I also just saw her in Wild, which is another story altogether. I’ll likely be talking about it sometime in the future.

Owen Wilson, God love him, is Owen Wilson. His fans, myself included, count on that in the same way we expect John Wayne to be John Wayne, Jimmy Stewart to be Jimmy Stewart and Robin Williams . . . well, you catch my drift. Anyway, Owen plays Coy Herlingen, a Police informant. He tips Doc off about the Golden Fang. Beware the Golden Fang!

I “read” Thomas Pynchon’s most readable novel (Inherent Vice) when it was released on audiobook a couple of years ago. That’s how I know it deserves its Oscar nod. I also read Mason & Dixon, but I think an unfortunate life or two in the South colors my perception.

Pynchon was born in 1937 in Glencove, New York, on the north coast of Long Island. He served two years in the Navy, and was 26 when his first novel V was published in 1963.

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Pynchon moved into prominence with Gravity’s Rainbow in 1973. It was slated for the National Book Award in 1974, but because of its controversial nature, no award was given that year. I’m still reading this too. My son Jake accidentally left it behind on his bookshelf after he moved out. I saw an art exhibit at The Walker in Minneapolis in 2004 or so where Zak Smith, the artist, created a graphic novel of every single page of Gravity’s Rainbow and plastered the entire book to one wall of the museum. Talk about awesome. Jake says that the secret to reading Pynchon is to read the entire book in one sitting.

I really dig the company he kept. Richard Fariña was a good friend and contemporary of his. Fariña wrote the novel Been Down So Long It Looks Like Up to Me. I read this novel during my freshman year at Piper— all the way through. It’s companionate to Kerouac’s On the Road, Salinger’s Catcher in the Rye, and Wolfe’s Electric Kool-Aid Acid Test.

Fariña was married to Joan Baez’s sister, Mimi, and prior to his tragic motorcycle accident in 1966, was expected to be the next Bob Dylan. Ironically, this happened within months of Dylan’s motorcycle accident which put him out of commission for a few years, himself. More on this in a future blog.

My good friend, Tommy Dorsey (not the band leader), gave me an LP Richard and Mimi Fariña recorded together called Reflections in a Crystal Wind because he lost the jacket and needed to buy another copy anyway. More about Richard Fariña in another blog too.

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What’s big and fat and white? Pynchon’s 2006 novel Against the Day. I thoroughly immersed myself in the adventure of the book’s opening scenes aboard a hot air balloon. I’m still reading and enjoying the hardcover version nine years later. I pick it up and put it down. I sent it to my brother for Christmas in 2006 before reading it myself. He says he gave up on it, but he forgives me. I dare you to read it.

I’m entranced by Pynchon’s writing. His worlds are infinitely complex, but inherently great. I find it totally worth the investment in time and mindstretch.

More on Thomas Pynchon and his works:

Inherent Vice

Against the Day

Gravity’s Rainbow


More on Space Larrabee:

By the Time I Got to Woodstock—or Space Meets Thyme in the Shadow of Atlantis



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