The Good: Characters, Lyrical Quality, Plot
The Bad: Ease of Resolution
The Basics: A finely weaved tale of the worlds most dysfunctional family ever. If not for its simplistic resolution and the occasional pointless thread, would be a perfect novel.
There are few novelists whose libraries I read entirely. Thomas Pynchon, in his own unlikely way, has become one of them. I read Pynchon's works with the full understanding that oftentimes, there is not a coherent narrative. Vineland is one of the few exceptions to that rule and it is one of Pynchon's most accessible works to all readers.
The bad news is that Vineland sets up three hundred fifty pages of conflict and it resolves it in five. One of my wisest writing teachers in college said, "Simple conflicts are easily resolved in writing" and while it sounds stupid, it's remarkably true; you can't effectively draw out a simple conflict. On the flip side, one cannot resolve a complex conflict effectively as Pynchon attempts to do in Vineland.
All of the rest is positive. Vineland begins with Zoyd Wheeler and his daughter Prairie viewing Zoyd's yearly act of insanity for a disability check. It immediately begs the question, "Why is Zoyd doing this?" which is answered throughout the novel in a retrospective from 1984 to the late 60s, early seventies.
Basically, the novel is the story of hippie persecution by the government - personified by a t.v. junkie named Hector and an opportunistic, career minded Judicial Department Special Agent named Brock Vond. But how everyone got where they did is thoroughly explored as Prairie and Zoyd split up and flee, resulting in Prairie ending up with a ninjette and a businessman getting a history lesson on a mythical place in California where it was once great to be free.
For Prairie, it's a search for her mother Frenesi Gates, for Zoyd it's a quest to do right by his family and his past and for the occasionally visible Frenesi, the search is for understanding the world she's been dumped into.
The novel is funny and irreverent, completely criticizing the Reagan downsizing, recession-induced counter-hippie mentality and coupling it with a broad array of cultural references both blatant and subtle.
The appeal of Vineland is more than just its usual Pynchon narrative technique; this is a unique story and it's an interesting one. The characters are brilliant and weird.
For other works of literature, please check out my reviews of:
The Sound And The Fury - William Faulkner
Letters From The Earth - Mark Twain
Invisible Man - Ralph Ellison
For other book reviews, please check out my index page!
© 2010, 2001 W.L. Swarts. May not be reprinted without permission.