I read that Inherent Vice was Thomas Pynchon’s sequel to Vineland and cringed. Inherent Vice was a silly, weak-assed fictionalization involving the sub-cultures surviving in the Los Angeles area, including the surfer crowd and lots of drugs. Vineland was about the survivors of sixties subculture in California but there the comparison, stretched as it is, ends. Vineland is a well structured novel with a narrative that is varied by character, loops back regularly on critical events, and involves just enough otherness to leave the reader with some concern for the generally realistic elements of the narrative.
Like so many novels, Vineland is enhanced if you have some experience with the events and locations that it presents. If you have no experience with Hippies or the lure of Northern California communes (now very newsworthy for the quality of the bud grown on the foggy mountainsides), then parts of Vineland are going to be less immediate than they would be to a Wavy Gravy (for instance).
But Vineland isn’t a novel of the sixties with the Merry Pranksters and love beads; it’s a novel covering the start of the Reagan era of greed and mendacity involving overly zealous government types and aging hippies. The cover writeup from the Penguin edition gives a good summary:
“Later than usual one summer morning in 1984 …” On California’s fog-hung North Coast, the enchanted redwood groves of Vineland County harbor a wild assortment of Sixties survivors and refugees from the “Nixonian Reaction,” still struggling with the consequences of their past lives. Aging hippie freak Zoyd Wheeler is revving up for his annual act of televised insanity when news reaches him that his old nemesis, sinister Federal agent Brock Vond, has come storming into Vineland at the head of a heavily armed Justice Department strike force. Zoyd instantly disappears underground, but not before dispatching his teenage daughter Prairie on a dark odyssey into her secret, unspeakable past …
Freely combining disparate elements from American popular culture—spy thrillers, Ninja potboilers, TV soap operas, Sci-fi fantasies—Vineland emerges as what Salman Rushdie has called in the New York Times Book Review “that rarest of birds: a major political novel about what American has been doing to itself, to its children, all these many years.”
When I finished the book I was pretty sure I had missed a lot of the significance of the many loops and forks in the narrative so I suspect I’m going to add this one to my possible reread list. I’m not a huge Pynchon fan but this was a good novel and I admired the author’s vision as well as his writing skill.