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Thomas Pynchon: Vineland

Readers had waited seventeen years for this novel, since the publication of Gravity’s Rainbow. Much was expected of it and, when it finally did appear, people were disappointed. It was shorter than its predecessor and certainly not as dense. Subsequently, some readers have defended it but, for most, it is definitely one of his lesser works. It’s still worth reading, as it has many of Pynchon’s trademark features – paranoia, history catching up with the present, in-jokes and references and the frenetic movement between areas and eras. We start off with the aging hippy, Zoyd Wheeler and his daughter, the fifteen-year old Prairie. They live in a town in Northern California, called Vineland (doubtless shades of Vinland), happily smoking dope and doing the things Northern Californians do. As we gradually learn, Zoyd’s wife and Prairie’s mother, Frenesi Gates, disappeared a while back. She was part of a radical film-making group. She was hounded by the FBI, and particularly by prosecutor Brock Vond (who was, of course, in love with her) and who also gave Zoyd a hard time. Now Vond is back and Frenesi may be back too. Zoyd and Prairie both go on the lam and come across all sorts of weirdoes and misfits, some of whom may be on their side and some who may not be. Prairie is eager to find her mother, whom she barely remembers and whose past is somewhat murkier than we were first led to believe. Pynchon is quick to attack the Reagan-era machinery but has no simplistic nostalgia for the 60s counter-culture. The book is great fun and satirises all and sundry but, sadly, it’s no Gravity’s Rainbow.

Publishing history

First published 1990 by Little, Brown