In Inherent Vice, Thomas Pynchon forgoes some gravitas to chase – well, meander without necessarily cutting to the chase – a few rainbows. Offering us the unique experience of late sixties psychedelic noir with trademark oppressive paranoia and kaleidoscopic pop culture allusions – from Gummo Marx to Mike Curb, and a dopers’ roundtable discussion of sorts of American versus English zombies – Pynchon creates a vastly amusing, enjoyable but convoluted narrative where, though some loose ends are tied-up to resolute contentment, many dots are virtually impossible to follow (“And would this be multiple choice?” he understandingly interjects at one point), or just lead to a portrayal of a life off-kilter. And why not? After all, Pynchon once said, maybe his fiction is “not the world, but with a minor adjustment or two it's what the world might be." Zombies and all.
Whether or not Inherent Vice comprises what the world might be, one thing for sure is that it contains many subplots and whatnots surrounding the likeable main character Doc Sportello, hippie private eye, though he doesn’t go around calling or characterizing himself as some kind of groovy gumshoe. He’s no Cheechless Chong, say, though he is an affable Cheech to many Chongs. While there’s a lot of the doper in Doc, he is many ways an industrious throwback to the “great old PIs – Philip Marlowe, Sam Spade, the shamus of shamuses" (though for another filmic twist Doc also looks to another celluloid hero, John Garfield, to add to the mix).
So when the requisite dame du jour comes to Doc’s office (LSD Investigations - Location, Surveillance, Detection) needing his help, Doc and the plots spring into action, the reader into potential confusion. Turns out this long-gone gal, name of Shasta, is an old girlfriend of Doc’s but has been involved with Mickey Wolfmann, a rich and married "real estate big shot” whose wife and lover want institutionalized - though there are conspiracies galore in the course of getting to the people behind the people behind the scenes. So while Doc is wrestling with his feelings for Shasta he is lured into schemes with an ensemble of characters and entities that include his archenemy, a vindictive cop named Bigfoot Bjornsen; a surf band sax player and spy; and a mystical schooner called the Golden Fang which may also be a heroin cartel, an enterprise of "vertical integration," an international conspiracy, or a tax dodge set up by some dentists. Doc also confronts wildly entertaining dopers (“Watch your head” …”How ‘m I spoze to do that, man?”), counterfeiters, rockers, surfers, hustlers, and — in a persona ostensibly out to make Doc “overthink myself into brainfreeze” — an ex-con with a swastika tattoo and a soft spot for Ethel Merman.