Inherent Vice
By Thomas Pynchon
384 pages; Penguin

Reading Thomas Pynchon again, one is reminded that fiction can clarify the world—capturing it as it seems to be—and it can also change the world by seeing it in new ways. Pynchon is a magician in the second category: He applies language to what we know and all we've missed—giving new shape to both. His latest novel, Inherent Vice, is a putative detective story set in California in the late '60s. Even the title makes you stop and puzzle out a new meaning: Does vice inhere? He might have called it "Original Sin" and no one would have given it a thought. It involves a missing rich guy, a spectacular murder, a musician reported dead who likely isn't, the early Internet and its invitation to surveillance, and plenty more. Its detective, Doc Sportello, is a blend of classic California noir hero and committed hippie stoner of the very old school (you can feel a touch of Altman's marvelous '70s version of The Long Goodbye, along with echoes of William Burroughs). The book is exuberant, delightfully evocative of its era, and very funny—one rarely hears mention of Pynchon's wonderful feel for comedy—and it has behind it a drumbeat of warning, about the kind of society we were building then and are living in now, in which nothing is private and all the important public mysteries will remain unsolved. — Vince Passaro


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