VINELAND by Thomas Pynchon

VINELAND by Thomas Pynchon

I’ve decided to start writing little pieces about books that I’ve read in the past. Mostly, I’m doing it for myself so that my writing chops don’t get rusty, but if someone happens upon one of these and gets something out of it, all the better. I’m selecting books using my books read list and a random number generator.

Thomas Pynchon’s VINELAND was only the second of his books that I read, after THE CRYING OF LOT 49. If my memory hasn’t failed me, my dad handed it to me, almost on the sly, as I headed off for college, either my freshman or sophomore year. To a naive, somewhat religiously sheltered lad, VINELAND was an eye-opener in a way that LOT 49 wasn’t. I’d always been enamored of the fantastical in fiction, with my main touchstones being Tolkien and CS Lewis, I think, in part, because of the way they unearthed numinous wonder out of the real.

I’ve always had a slight aversion to the tedium of the mundane, and VINELAND proposed a solution to that: the idea that high strange weirdness, secrets and conspiracies, and obscure, occult knowledge lurked underneath that ubiquitous mundanity. I mean, LOT 49 touched on those things too, but it felt more like a fairy-tale, while VINELAND’s epicenter was Northern California, and contained enough “real” hooks that, combined with the aura of the fantastical, it reeled me in completely.

I think I can thank VINELAND for the beginnings of my distrust and skepticism of government and corporate activities, or really any organizations involving large number of hurrying, scurrying human beings.

Funnily enough, considering the random nature of this pick, I’m actually reading Pynchon’s newest book right now, BLEEDING EDGE, and it feels the most like VINELAND of any of his other books, only set in NYC in the strange days before 9/11.

I’ve read so many books, that, usually, all that’s left of a book in my mind are echoes of its impressions. For me, I remember very little of the book’s plot, which I seem to recall involved a precocious teenage girl, her hippy dad (or maybe her dad was a government agent?), some plot involving drugs and other things, and… that’s where I reach the limit of my memory.

I do recall, vividly, reading a scene involving the evil, government agent, the teenage girl, and a helicopter. I don’t recall why that scene was so vivid or why I remember it now…

For me, I tend to think of Pynchon’s books in two categories: Easy to Read and Tough to Read. VINELAND falls into the Easy to Read category, along with BLEEDING EDGE, CRYING OF LOT 49, and INHERENT VICE, while MASON & DIXON and AGAINST THE DAY fall into the Tough to Read column. Hey, me, I love Pynchon, but if you’re new to his stuff, I’d recommend something from those “easy to read” ones. This isn’t to say that they’re simple or actually “easy”, but compared to the “tough” ones, they require quite a bit less effort.

Happy reading!

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