(Critical Survey of Contemporary Fiction)

It has been seventeen years since Thomas Pynchon’s last novel, GRAVITY’S RAINBOW, was published. Although there was criticism of the novel for being obscene and unnecessarily complex, Pynchon was hailed as a writer of immense talent. He is also an author who shuns the limelight. He is a mysterious figure, and not even a single current photograph of him is available.

VINELAND may not be what the reading public expected of him, but it is the product of a writer in full control of his talent. The novel is also far more accessible than GRAVITY’S RAINBOW. Accessibility is a relative term with Pynchon though. VINELAND oozes popular terms and slogans for his own demented uses. VINELAND is definitely wild and wacky.

The characters are no less wacky or demented. Pynchon seems to like rooting for the little guy, the spaced-out soul who has fallen through the cracks of the American system. The characters in VINELAND are prisoners of the past. Zoyd Wheeler played surfer music in a band during the 1960’s; in 1984, he supports himself by putting on women’s clothing and jumping through a window once a year so that he can collect his mental disability checks from the government. His former wife, Frenesi Gates, deserted him many years earlier and betrayed the revolutionary movement of which she had been a member, in part as a result of her attraction to a psychopathic federal prosecutor, Brock Vond. Prairie, Zoyd and Frenesi’s teenage daughter, becomes the center of the novel as she goes on a quest to find her legacy. In the course of this journey, the events of the 1960’s that shaped her parents and the individuals around them, come to light. Prairie is the only true innocent of the novel. Through her, there is hope for a brighter future: The walking wounded, the undead, the dope fiends, and the psychopaths may all find a way to be rejuvenated in Vineland, California.

Thomas Pynchon has created a madcap world...

(The entire section is 794 words.)