I've been sort of trying to read my way through Pynchon's novels in order of publication, based on the fact that I really like The Crying of Lot 49. So I read V. last year and that was OK, and over the summer I started Gravity's Rainbow, and at first I liked that pretty well, but I got about 70 pages in and had to quit. Just, no. But Vineland was next and I thought, hey, it's another of the 'three California novels' like Lot 49 and maybe I'll do better. I started Vineland while sitting on Avila Beach and decided that this one was probably a keeper.
....I'm coming up pretty blank on how to describe this, though. It's pretty weird and surreal (and funny!). So I'm going to do something I do not do and give you some of the back-cover blurb:
Aging hippie freak Zoyd Wheeler is revving up for his annual act of televised insanity when news reaches 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. . . .OK, so there are a couple of plots. One is mostly about Prairie's mother, Frenesi, once a 60s radical filmmaker for the Death to the Pig Nihilist Film Kollective, then an FBI informant, and long gone from Prairie's life. Then there is her once-best-friend DL, a trained ninja killer, and her partner Takeshi. Plus, of course, Zoyd and the many other people populating the novel, which goes back and forth in time and place. Vineland County is up on the north California coast, say north of Arcata, and full of loggers and old hippies and pot (and restaurants called things like the Bodhi Dharma Pizza Temple). Its opposite number is Trasero County near San Diego, once a beachy college of rock and roll, now turned into a re-education camp.
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 America has been doing to itself, to its children, all these many years."
Vineland has a settlement of Thanatoids, the mostly-dead who can't seem to get anywhere. TV, always called the Tube, is omnipresent and addictive--there are Tubaldetox hospitals. Page 238 has one of the most bizarre joke set-ups I've ever seen (and it serves the plot too). Oh, and there's a secret Army freeway along the tops of the coastal mountains of California! The weirdness never stops, but it exists alongside the grotesque, or tragedy.
I won't say I understood it, but I enjoyed it quite a bit and will re-read someday (though I still don't like the more vulgar bits). I also found a couple of essays that I want to read about it. In Vineland I found what I liked in Lot 49, so I'm pretty happy.