Congratulations, commendations and kudos! My proverbial hat, sir, is off to you for your recent review of literary icon Thomas Pynchon's new noirish novel Inherent Vice in the August 7 edition of The Wall Street Journal. In a few hundred words, you did far more than leave Pynchon's single attempt at non-literary fiction bleeding out in the gutter. No, you sliced up the entire genre field! Ballsy, brilliant and utterly mad -- the perfect literary crime, if I do say so myself.
Let us consider your first paragraph, fine sir. In it you write:
"Inherent Vice" is the closest to beach reading that Thomas Pynchon has ever produced. Of course, take-to-the-beach best sellers are nearly always genre fiction: thrillers and mysteries and romances. They're usually competent, typically easy and strictly conventional books: novels by courtesy; narrower in purpose and range than what novel writing is supposed to allow. That doesn't make them bad. It just makes them small. Which raises a question: If the 72-year-old Thomas Pynchon, high-flying author of such iconic works as "V." (1963) and "Gravity's Rainbow" (1973), is reduced to writing genre fiction -- in this case, a mystery-thriller with an overlay of irony -- who is left to write novels? Real novels, that is?A master stroke from the start! Rather than denouncing the field outright, you slash it with a half-dozen left-handed compliments, calling it "small," "easy," "conventional," "narrower in purpose and range," "not bad" and "usually competent." (Ah, that usually really gets the claret running!) We know it must be the villain since it has "reduced" the great Pynchon to writing novels that aren't "real."
Further huzzahs to you, my good man, for keeping us diverted from the fact that many lauded literary works could be considered genre pieces today. Best to not consider Frankenstein, Fahrenheit 451 and The Lord of the Flies. And the way in which you kept the onlookers so preoccupied that they failed to notice literary fiction is its own genre -- genius! It's harder for witnesses to excuse your handiness with a shiv -- wait, excuse me -- with a pen when they realize how many of the "real" novels contain structures so unconventional as to be well-nigh impenetrable. Oh, and aren't we glad they didn't notice the standard literary preoccupations with angst, adultery and internal monologue, as well as the typical antipathy toward robust plotting?
Not that we'll have to worry too much about plot from future authors of literary fiction. Giving the literati their due is necessary if you want to make sure nothing happens to that nice, little novel you've got there. (Although since most literary fiction seems to be creeping closer to four-digit page counts, "little" isn't the right word, is it?) But getting the public to actually read such works, that's a problem the Family has never quite been able to solve …
With Sincere Confustication and Awe,
(Picture: CC 2008 by photobunny)