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Pynchon goes Hollywood

August 6, 2009
Pynchon as a young man

Pynchon as a young man

Even Thomas Pynchon has embraced the hard realities of the 21st century media environment by producing a “book trailer” for his latest novel, Inherent Vice . This from a media-shy literary star who once wrote an essay titled “Is It O.K. to Be a Luddite?”

Pynchon, of course, is famous not only for writing novels that have earned him a MacArthur “genius” award, a National Book Award, and perennial mention for the Nobel Prize, but also for his unwillingness to be photographed or interviewed. Indeed, it’s been at least 40 years since a verifiable photo of the man has been taken.

While Pynchon has been called a “recluse,” that’s not really true. J.D. Salinger, holed up in his cabin, publishing nothing since the early ’60s, is a recluse. Pynchon, however, has produced seven novels, counting the new one, since 1963, including Gravity’s Rainbow and Against the Day.

Pynchon, 72, is married to the literary agent Melanie Jackson and lives in New York and Los Angeles. He’s contributed articles and essays to popular magazines over the years. What’s more, he has gleefully spoofed his own image. In 1974 he sent the double-talking comedian Professor Irwin Corey to pick up his National Book Award for Gravity’s Rainbow. He has twice appeared as himself on The Simpsons, with a paper bag on his head, making jokes and puns about his reputation.

As himself on The Simpsons

As himself on The Simpsons

But nowadays an author, however famous and/or infamous, must scrape and innovate to reach an audience. Inherent Vice is a metafictional crime thriller set in the early 1970s.  The video trailer, artfully grimy scenes of L.A. shot from a moving car, features a laconic voice over by Doc Sportello, a pot-smoking private investigator. The rote noirish touches are not especially promising, but the video ends funny, when the narrator says, “Maybe you’ll just want to want to read the book. Inherent Vice, Penguin Press, $27.95 — $27.95? That used to be, like, three weeks of groceries, man. What year is this again?”

Early reviews have been mixed. The New York Times called it “a big, clunky time machine of a novel,” while the Boston Globe countered by saying Pynchon “writes with a rich mastery of the era’s detail,” Like all Pynchon’s novel’s, it’s most likely to be expansive, complicated, baggy and frequently brilliant. So maybe you will have to read it yourself. Or at least watch the video.

4 Comments leave one →
  1. rachel permalink
    August 6, 2009 3:31 pm

    The only Pynchon I’ve ever read is “The Crying of Lot 49” which I both loved and despised while reading it. I always like when people are able to make fun of themselves. So that goes a long way to ease the oddness of his public image in my opinion. (In fact, if I was famous and South Park didn’t do an episode mocking me I would be offended).

    A video trailer for a book, well that’s odd, and maybe interesting. I don’t know. It seems like perhaps misrepresentation. As if it will lure you in by its images and yet what you actually get are words. Okay okay so I just watched it instead of commenting without viewing it. At least they didn’t show any people. At least all you heard was a voice. It would have been a terrible idea to show us what the main character looked like instead of allowing us to imagine him for ourselves while reading the book. And actually I think that the trailer was quite smart. The images are interesting and slightly disorienting while giving you a real feel for the setting. It is shot interestingly, and it very short which is good. Even the voiceover is a voice that is intriguing, it conveys a character that you would like to learn more about. Ah man, I thought I was going to write about what a terrible idea this was and how it is a mistake to ruin literature with the likes of facebook and movie trailers, but it was very well done and I have to say that I think it was kind of, rather brilliant. However, I might add that they could have done a great number of things to mess it all up and I will be very apprehensive to watch other trailers for books. Like with movie trailers, I don’t like to see them because they give too much away. And I don’t like to read movie or book reviews before I have experienced it for myself. Only after. This trailer was done well but I highly doubt, if this is a trend that takes off, that even a fraction of them will be this well done.

    • Chauncey Mabe permalink*
      August 6, 2009 5:15 pm

      Rachel, actually book trailers are fairly common these days. Brad Meltzer did one for his last thriller, the Da Vinci Code-ish Book of Lies, that made me want to see the movie. Except, of course, there is no movie. Publishers are desperate to attract readers by any means possible. By “readers” I mean “buyers.” These trailers get put on YouTube, where who knows how many people actually see them. I mean, it’s not like some doofus crying that we should leave Britney alone, and certainly not a cute cat jumping out of a box. But who knows, I say?

  2. August 6, 2009 3:58 pm

    I agree. The hard realities of the book business. I will try and read his latest. I do not know if trailers work or not. I will have to try one. I was one of the first to say music video’s would not take off. I did not think the great music people of the 50, 60’s , 70’s would take this on. Boy did I show them. I really think any new way to market one self will in fact be used. It is survival for the publishing business.

  3. February 2, 2010 10:35 pm

    What’s wrong with me? I can’t read Pynchon. I’ve tried and tried, thinking something in my literary toot-toot must be malfunctioning. A genius? What’s that? Nobody in this soul-lacerating business is a genius. No, not even dead forever and eventually forgotten Salinger. Well, maybe excepting Shakespeare. But that man had no education! Little Latin and less Greek. Now there’s a measurement of genius. That’s why my walls are covered with his portrait and quotes from his plays. “Comparisons are odorous,” Willy said. Me thinks he protests too much.

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