Pynchon goes Hollywood
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.
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.