Pynchon has always been a cartoonist: He specializes in simplification, exaggeration, and brightly colored types. This means that, paradoxically, his wildest invention occurs right at the edge of cliché. He may have finally fallen over that edge. His types, after 45 years, have themselves become types. The characters in Inherent Vice are not only paranoid, they walk around constantly talking about their paranoia. Aside from the dopily lovable Doc, everyone is just the standard tangle of phonemes attached to a Pynchonesque hobbyhorse: computers, threesomes, chocolate-covered frozen bananas. Switch those hobbyhorses around and you don’t lose much. There were sequences toward the end of the book where I had no idea what was happening or even who was speaking, and it didn’t seem worth the energy to backtrack and figure it out. That’s not an ideal way to wrap up a detective story, however unorthodox.
It’s also not an ideal way to wrap up a career. Pynchon, now in his seventies, is very obviously not catering to me. Still, it would be exciting to see such a prodigious talent find his way onto some new artistic path—one, maybe, open to finding meaning in pauses and silence and understatement rather than the same endless manic invention. Otherwise, one of the most unique careers in American literary history is going to end by endlessly repeating itself. And, as Doc might put it: “Uh ... bummer.”