I’ve read, or attempted to read, every Pynchon. I devoured the early ones (The Crying of Lot 49, V., and Gravity’s Rainbow). I struggled in varying degrees with Vineland, Mason & Dixon. I had less “trouble” with Against The Day.
I’ve always loved Pynchon’s humor, as well as his conspiracy laden paranoid vision. Inherent Vice has a bit less paranoia than some and more humor than others. Is it a departure for him? Some would argue, yes, but I’d disagree. The elements of Pynchon are still there, just cloaked in a different guise. The pop references still stream along past your vision like duckies at a carnie shooting gallery. The wildly inventive character names will either have you chuckling or groaning – and sometimes both.
The sniping mostly stems from those who have not read the book and who have succumbed to the marketing campaign decision that hopes to popularize an author that has been an enigma for a wider audience. Well, good luck.
Doc Sportello may well be at the nexus where Pynchon’s worldview changes forever. Out of the weed induced haze, when the ‘smoke’ clears, we see clearly that things may just have changed permanently for the worse. One of the reasons that to call this Pynchon novel a departure or a light read (comparatively) is just silly. I’d say it fits like a glove into Pychon’s body of work. But Doc is also a classic dick. Just that he’s a product of his environment. I see no ‘spoof’ here of private eye novels. Doc Sportello fits right there in the begats after Spade and Marlowe.
You can do two things here. You can read this very enjoyable Pynchon novel, or you can go outside, throw your arms out to the left and right and spin around as fast as you can, as long as you can. That would be until you fall down, your head spinning. It’s kind of the same sensory effect. Just that one lasts longer.