Zoyd Wheeler has been living a quiet life in Vineland, a fictitious town in Northern California, with his daughter Prairie. Zoyd does odd jobs for neighbors, grows marijuana, and collects a government pension for committing a crazy act every year: specifically, for throwing himself through a plate-glass window in a local restaurant in front of television cameras. Prairie works in a local health-food pizza parlor and hangs out with a rock band, Billy Barf and the Vomitones.
Things are changing at the novel’s beginning. The site of Zoyd’s annual fling is shifted without explanation, and there are rumors of a major government antidrug operation in the area. Various kinds of police and federal troops are seen in Vineland. Hector Zuñiga warns Zoyd that Prairie is in danger, probably from Brock Vond. There are rumors that Vond has lost track of Frenesi, an agent whom he controls, and that he will try to find her by using Prairie. Prairie, on her own, is anxious for more information about her mother; Zoyd and Sasha Gates, Prairie’s grandmother, have told her only that Frenesi is underground, hiding from government agents because of her activities in the 1960’s.
Prairie, warned by her father that she should leave the area, goes with the band to Southern California, where they are scheduled to play at a Mafia wedding while pretending to be an Italian band. In the powder room, Prairie accidentally draws the attention of DL Chastain, a martial-arts expert who had been close to Frenesi in the turmoil of the 1960’s. DL introduces Prairie to the Sisterhood of Kunoichi Attentives, whose files reveal to the young woman the activities in which her mother had been involved as a member of a radical film collective.
DL’s life is presented in considerable detail. Daughter of a career Army enlisted man, she had become a student of martial arts with a renowned teacher while her father was stationed in Japan. Her skills, far beyond normal, were sometimes made use of by others in ways she could not always control; at one point, she was programmed to kill Brock Vond but failed. She has taken control of her own life and is now a partner of another master of the martial arts, Takeshi Fumimota, who has his own unusual history.
From the archives at the retreat and from DL, Prairie learns that Frenesi had participated in the rebellion at a small California college, had encountered and been fascinated by Brock Vond, had been seduced by him, and had served as his agent in the murder of a popular professor named Weed. The murder, along with the imminent occupation of the campus of the college by police and federal troops, had brought the rebellion to an end. Frenesi had been spirited away by Vond and sequestered in a secret government camp. Rescued by DL, she had eventually married Zoyd and given birth to Prairie before returning to Vond and becoming an underground government agent.
In the meantime, Frenesi has become wedded to her new life. She has married again to another undercover agent, Flash, and has another child, a son named Justin. She and Flash have been moved from town to town, wherever their services were needed. At the time when Prairie begins her search, however, Frenesi’s world is coming apart. The Ronald Reagan Administration has cut off funding for Brock Vond’s operation, and Frenesi sets out with Flash and Justin for Vineland.
Prairie also returns to Vineland with DL and Takeshi Fumimota in time for the periodic reunion of Sasha Gates’s family; the community feeling of the family helps to dissipate the threat of government intervention. Prairie finally meets her mother, and there is something close to a reconciliation between them. In the end, Brock Vond attempts to kidnap Prairie, who he claims is his daughter; the attempt is frustrated, and he is condemned by higher forces in the government. The raid is called off, the troops and police withdraw from the area, and there is a happy ending, at least temporarily, for Prairie, her...
(The entire section is 1,676 words.)