7 of 7 people found the following review helpful
on 3 April 2013
By the standards of most authors Vineland would be a laudable achievement, but by Pynchon's standards it's a middling work whose potential is betrayed by his variable use of his own stylistic trademarks. It's half the length of Gravity's Rainbow but far more of a slog to read, and more than twice the length of The Crying of Lot 49, but with no more impact.
As is often the case, it's kinduva hifalutin' conspiracy thriller, this time taking in the clash between the late '60s counterculture and the Nixon government, and the aftershock for both sides through to the end of the first Reagan administration. Pynchon returned to this theme even more explicitly in his most recent novel, Inherent Vice, and in both of them his rage at the triumph of the reactionaries (and his sorrow at the failings of the counterculture, about which he is clear-headed) is palpable.
And therein lies the problem. Deep within Vineland, there's an angry and very moving naturalistic novel trying to get out, a naturalistic novel about the cost to human lives when a brutal ruling class pursues its own agenda under the guise of "national interest". This comes closest to the surface in the last quarter of Vineland, which may the most emotionally direct and affecting writing Pynchon has ever produced.
Unfortunately, Pynchon, as a fabulist (let's not insult him by calling him a post-modernist), doesn't do naturalistic novels. Which is not a problem when he's on form, but much of Vineland reads like someone imitating Pynchon and making a mess of it. All the familiar characteristics are there - the absurd character names, the puns, the magical realist elements, the leaps in time, location and viewpoint, the crappy pop lyrics (more than ever this time around), the apparently pointless digressions, the loopy erudition in both high and low culture, the flowing, Beat-derived prose, and so forth. But while these are used to great and joyous effect in his earlier novels, here they frequently seem tired and laboured. The nadir is the second quarter (if you've already read it, that's the backstories of Takeshi and DL), an incredibly slow and ponderous chunk of prose which is so boring and affected I almost packed up and looked for another book entirely. It's so poor, it's not even like a bad Pynchon parody, it's like a bad Tom Robbins parody.
I got through it and I'm glad I did, because there's still a lot to enjoy and stimulate in the latter parts of the novel. For the most part, the characters are more engaging, and more three-dimensional than usual, the overall structure of the novel (apart from that dreadful second quarter) is brilliantly worked, and it becomes more moving as it goes along. If I've read it correctly, it may even have a happy ending of sorts. And there's a rather charming and unexpected crossover with The Crying of Lot 49, which tantalisingly suggests that there's a Pynchoverse for us to wander about in. Overall, though, for me this was a good novel which fell short of being a great one because its author was trying too hard to be Thomas Pynchon.
on 13 June 2013
I'm not really big on post-modern writers, so I'm not likely to be Pynchon's target audience or a natural loyal fan. I dipped my toe in (as many do) with the short, but still rather baffling, "The Crying of Lot 49". Despite a playfulness to that text I didn't get much out of it or feel compelled to keep going with Pynchon. However, recently I've been dabbling in later authors fond of / influenced by Pynchon, so thought the time was right to give him another go and to check out another of the "safer" options from his bibliography.
The result? A mixed bag. There's some wonderful characterization in "Vineland" that is especially touching, moments both big and small, that makes a real impression. Then there are gaping holes in the story - like why Frenesi acts in quite the way she does. Pynchon makes no bones about the fact she's a cold character, but it feels a little weak to be told Frenesi acted how she did because she doesn't *really* care that much and she has a thing for authority figures.
Probably the best thing in "Vineland" is the sense of loss that exudes from the novel. There's a palpable feeling that events took a wrong turn in American history starting in the Nixon era, and there's no way back at all. The events that unfold in Frenesi's past are really quite bleak to read as the optimism and good intentions of the 60s are blasted away by a ruthless government machine and undermined from within - a purge that continued in to the 80s and the Reagan years. Reading all this from another era, 2013, debilitated by the excesses of neo-liberalism made for quite depressing reading (at least for someone like me, left of centre).
Of course, there are the wacky elements to this story that mustn't be forgotten. The ninjas, the Godzilla monster, the Star Trek references, the man who has sex with his car... These are all quite funny, and there is a lot of humour in the book, but it's all very post-modern and not all of it hangs together well. The ending with Brock is particularly "WTF-inducing" and feels a bit like a cop-out.
Still, if there are ropy sections to this novel, I'm willing to forgive them for the general heartfelt feeling the novel is written with and it's many other amusing sections. "Vineland" hasn't exactly made me a convert, but it has at least convinced me it might not be such a bad thing to go read "Inherent Vice", though "Gravity's Rainbow" may have to wait a little longer before I pick it off the shelves.
20 of 24 people found the following review helpful
on 29 October 2002
I can't remember how I came across Vineland originally. It certainly wasn't what I was expecting. I was vaguely aware of Thomas Pynchon's reputation as a recluse, and I suppose I just thought it was about time I discovered what all the fuss what about, expecting an anti-climactic disappointment.
But what an amazing discovery, which since that date has been my favourite book and undoubtedly the one I would select if one day banished to some remote place with a single volume limit.
Not only did this book make me laugh in a way I never have before or since, behind the bizarre descriptions of life past and present in the United States lies a serious message. I am not sure it is possible to fully understand Americans without reading this book.
I could not more strongly recommend it.
1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
For ages I hadn't a clue what was going on, so confusing, but in such an entertaining, beguiling way that I ploughed on, regardless. Then, it was as if someone threw a switch in my brain and All Became Clear and then I started to love it. I probably need to read it again now - at least once.
Vineland reads like Jack Kerouac trying to write a `real' novel - and there's nothing wrong with that.
4 of 5 people found the following review helpful
on 21 August 2008
It's very difficult to write a review about such a multi-faceted book. Some talk of it being a sort of conspiracy-based story, but that's not even part of it. Set against a post-summer-of-love Reagan-era backdrop, the conspiracy part is the evil FBI agent chasing former political activist. However, rolled into that is eastern mysticism and spiritual martial art at one end, the subtle menace of alien invasion at the other and lots of other exciting stuff inbetween. To provide the pathos is a convoulted menage-a-I-forget-how-many, further confounded by elements of pure sadistic lust.
It's difficult to say who the main character is, as Pynchon somehow engages a Tarantino-esque effect of multiple converging storylines, married with beat writing reminiscent of Tom Wolfe's Electric Koolade Acid Test. In fact speaking of Tarantino, I watched the Kill Bill films soon after I read this book, and it's striking how similar to Vineland the atmosphere and themes seemed.
That's as close to a description of the story as I'll go, for fear of spoiling it. Stylistically Pynchon is awesome, giving depth and historical context to his characters and yet being almost stream-of-consciousness in his writing. But it all hangs together, even through the 1/2 page-long sentences.
This was a fantastic read that I was truly disappointed to end, and is one of the few books that I will read again. Although I do appreciate that some readers might find his slightly schizophrenic style hard to tolerate, I would certainly recommend this to others.
15 of 19 people found the following review helpful
on 12 October 2000
Vineland was my introduction to Pynchon ten years ago, and I think it's aged very well. On its own, it's a brilliant book, a dissection of America's rebellion years of the Sixties and the clampdown decade of the Eighties. Packed full of amazing language, rock n roll, conspiracies, riots, lunatics, ghosts, ninjas, TV, video, drugs, pizza, chainsaws, cops...Vineland is pure Pynchon. It's always played down because of its comparison to Gravity's Rainbow, but this is the more human, funny and accessible book, and a lot more tightly controlled. Read it for yourself.
on 7 December 2013
By far the strangest novel I've ever read. The essence is a girl searching for the mother who left her behind when she was small. The strange characters you meet on the way lead to even stranger encounters, leading you away from and back again to the main storyline and away again. What makes the read unique is the language used: erudite, baroque, funny. The reading of a Pynchon book is a challenge and an adventure in itself, whatever the storyline. This book was my introduction to Pynchon and I'm already planning my next adventure.
6 of 8 people found the following review helpful
on 20 December 2007
Don't read VINELAND expecting a linear narrative about people who, oh, manage the office. Instead, be ready to follow cartoon characters, often scarred by the turmoil of the Sixties, whose stories are part nightmare, part larky fantasy, and part political commentary. Then, be ready as their stories lead to other characters whose experiences double back or leap forward, forming a loose web of complex digressions that are fascinating, troubling, and, shall we say, silly, hm?
In addition, don't expect consistency. Read VINELAND and see one character die but rejoin the action. See another escape from jail and the evil Brock Vond, only to reappear in that jail again (same time same place, as far as I could tell) to suffer Brock's brutal dominance. But, who cares? VINELAND is a web of interaction, not some boring story of simple cause and effect.
In some respects, VINELAND is that old saw-a riddle wrapped in a mystery inside an enigma. But this time, it's not Churchill describing Russia; it's the lyrical John Updike channeling George Carlin on a great and hilarious riff.
At the same time, THREE-CHEERS for the Pynch, who ties everything together in the final chapter in a neat post-modern package. There, you will find his clear and amusing narrative explanations for the bizarre DL and Takeshi, the toxic Brock, and the earnest stoner Zoyd. There's his silly overview of the story-"Oh, the usual journey from point A to point B." Pynch even tells you what happens to Desmond, the feral family dog, who seemed lost forever.
VINELAND has a singular, playful, and awesome associative style, with Pynchon in total control. And since it's Pynchon, he tells you. Indeed, this reader found on page 160 in the original hardcover: "A young woman with regular features, wearing a draped white gown, appeared out of the airport crowds, leaned her forearm on Takeshi's shoulder, whispered, `Watch the paranoia, please!' and then disappeared again." Read the book and you'll see this is Pynchon, having fun, with Lady Literature reminding him to set limits.
A really terrific novel and well worth the effort.
4 of 6 people found the following review helpful
on 6 February 2002
Thomas Pynchon seems to write 2 sorts of books; incredibly complex books that only get more understandable the more you read them (Gravity's Rainbow, V) and simple books that get more complex the number of times you re-read them (The Crying of Lot 49). Vineland is one of the latter. Full to the brim with a host of the usual Pynchon eccentrics we follow the tale of the lovable Zoyd and his daughter's search for her mother. Through this search Pynchon manages to take us on a journey through the American dreams of a generation and how those dreams are reflected in the things that surround us, and portrayed on that most pervasive of cultural icons; the television. Not many books manage to be so rewarding and literate and yet still so hip.
on 7 April 2015
Well, there was prompt delivery but the cover of the book was different than the one pictured and expected