As a veteran of the Gravity’s Rainbow and Against the Day Deathmarches, I wouldn’t say that I’ve suffered at Thomas Pynchon’s hands, necessarily, but I’ve certainly paid my dues. So it is with no small amount of caution that I approach a Pynchon book, and I did not undertake Vineland (1990) lightly. I’ve been pleasantly surprised: This book exhibits all of his features (wild creativity, clever references to culture high and low, and jaw-dropping flights of prose virtuosity) and none of his bugs (extreme difficulty and incomprehensibility).
Which is not to say that Vineland is an easy read, but it is a pleasurable one — I find myself actually looking forward to picking up the book, in contrast to GR and AtD, which sometimes inspired dread. I still need to be careful, though, because like Hunter Thompson and David Foster Wallace, Tommy the Pynch (as I like to call him) has a prose style that gets under your skin. After reading him for awhile you find yourself trying to write like him — producing sentences that go on and on, with all kinds of dependent clauses, and saying to yourself, “Well, why shouldn’t I just cram it all in there… what could possibly be the harm?” and the next thing you know you’ve got yourself out on a ledge in the middle of some torrential hailstorm of words that you don’t know how to stop — and you have to take a deep breath and remind yourself that Pynchon is after all a genius, some say our greatest living writer, and that mere mortals should think twice before attempting this sort of thing.
You see what happens? It’s not pretty. Here’s how a professional does it: