Inherent Vice  

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Inherent Vice is a novel by Thomas Pynchon, originally published in August 2009.



The term "inherent vice" refers to a property of or defect in a physical object that causes it to deteriorate due to the fundamental instability of its components. In the legal sense, inherent vice may make an item an unacceptable risk to a carrier or insurer. If the characteristic or defect is not visible, and if the carrier or the insurer has not been warned of it, neither of them may be liable for any claim arising solely out of the inherent vice.

The phrase "inherent vice" appears often in William Gaddis' 1955 novel The Recognitions, a novel that influenced American post-modern literature. In Gaddis' novel, the term refers to defects in a work of art. It also appears in another of Pynchon's novels, Mason & Dixon.

Plot summary

The setting is Los Angeles in 1970; the arrest and trial of the Manson Family is featured throughout the novel as a current event. Larry "Doc" Sportello, private investigator and "pothead", receives a visit from his former girlfriend Shasta Fay Hepworth, now having an affair with the real-estate mogul Michael Z. "Mickey" Wolfmann. Shasta asks Doc to help foil a plot allegedly hatched by Mickey's wife Sloane and her lover, Riggs Warbling, to have Mickey admitted to a mental health institution. Soon afterwards a black militant named Tariq Khalil asks Doc to find Glen Charlock, one of Mickey's bodyguards—Tariq claims that Glen owes him money after their time spent together in prison.

Doc visits one of Mickey's developments but is knocked unconscious, and awakes to find himself being questioned by his old LAPD nemesis, Det. Christian F. "Bigfoot" Bjornsen, who informs Doc that Glen Charlock has been shot dead and that Mickey has vanished. Later, Doc is visited by Hope Harlingen, the widow of a musician named Coy Harlingen, who wants Doc to investigate rumours that Coy is still alive. Doc finds Coy in a nightclub, but upon hearing that Doc is investigating Mickey, Coy tells Doc about the Golden Fang, an old schooner suspected of bringing mysterious goods into port, and upon which both Mickey and Shasta are rumoured to have departed. Doc learns that Coy has been working for the government as an informer and agent provocateur, but is allowed no contact with his family. He also discovers that one Puck Beaverton had switched shifts with Glen Charlock on the day of Glen's death, and that Mickey had been working at the time of his disappearance on a plan to atone for his sins as a ruthless entrepreneur.

Doc pays a visit to the HQ of Golden Fang Enterprises where he meets Japonica Fenway, a young runaway whom Doc had returned to her wealthy parents on a previous occasion. Japonica reveals that she has stayed at a clinic named the Chryskylodon Institute. Doc visits the Institute, where he again encounters Coy Harlingen, and deduces that Mickey has been apprehended by persons unknown. Doc is then told that the attack during which Glen Charlock was shot was carried out by a group of vigilantes who are said to do dirty work for the LAPD. Doc then discovers links between Puck Beaverton and a notorious loan shark named Adrian Prussia. After a visit from Trillium Fortnight, a female companion of Puck's, Doc travels to Las Vegas in search of Puck and Trillium 's sexual threesome partner, Einar.

In Las Vegas, Doc places a bet with the manager of the Kismet Lounge, Fabian Fazzo, that Mickey did not fake his own disappearance. Later, Doc believes that he sees Mickey in the company of federal agents, and subsequently hears of Mickey's scheme for a philanthropic housing project in the desert. Doc visits the site and encounters Riggs Warbling, architect of the housing project, who fears that Mickey has been "reprogrammed" and that the development, already abandoned, will be destroyed.

Back in Los Angeles, Doc learns that Puck Beaverton and Bigfoot's former policing partner, Vincent Indelicato, were sworn enemies. Adrian Prussia, who was used by the authorities as an unofficial assassin, effectively immune from the law, and who employed Puck, permitted Puck to murder Vincent. Doc visits Adrian, who claims that he is behind the Golden Fang organisation, while Puck contends that Glen was killed deliberately because he was supplying black-power groups with weapons. Doc is handcuffed and about to be given a lethal drug overdose, but escapes and kills both Puck and Adrian. Bigfoot, who has evidently been using Doc to investigate Vincent's death, picks Doc up, but sets him up with a huge quantity of stolen heroin.

Doc performs a in order to hide the drugs and is later contacted by Crocker Fenway (father of Japonica) who acts as an intermediary for the Golden Fang. Doc arranges a handover, his only condition being that Coy is released from all of his obligations and allowed to return to his family. After the handover has taken place, Doc and his lawyer Sauncho hear that the Golden Fang schooner is leaving port. Along with the Coast Guard, they pursue the vessel, and watch as it is abandoned after encountering an enormous surf wave. Sauncho and Doc then decide to place a claim on the schooner.

At the end of the novel, Doc receives a payment from Fabian Fazzo in settlement of his bet about Mickey. He also learns that Coy has been reunited with Hope and their child, Amethyst.


Critics reacted well to Inherent Vice, particularly for its mainstream appeal. In a generally favorable review, The New York Times ' Michiko Kakutani called it "Pynchon Lite", describing it as "a simple shaggy-dog detective story that pits likable dopers against the Los Angeles Police Department and its 'countersubversive' agents, a novel in which paranoia is less a political or metaphysical state than a byproduct of smoking too much weed". A review by academic Louis Menand in The New Yorker declared the novel "a generally lighthearted affair", while adding that there were still "a few familiar apocalyptic touches, and a suggestion that countercultural California is a lost continent of freedom and play, swallowed up by the faceless forces of co-optation and repression". In a scathing review in New York magazine, Sam Anderson wrote that "with no suspense and nothing at stake, Pynchon's manic energy just feels like aimless invention".

Pynchon promoted the book with a video trailer, released before the hardback. The video featured Pynchon narrating as Doc, accompanied by footage of the book's California locale and period music.

Film adaptation

Inherent Vice (film)

In early 2011, it was reported that Academy Award-nominated writer-director Paul Thomas Anderson (Magnolia, There Will Be Blood, The Master) would adapt Inherent Vice into a feature film. The film features Joaquin Phoenix, the lead from Anderson's 2012 film The Master, and is narrated by Joanna Newsom. On September 29, 2014, the first trailer and a poster for the film were released by Warner Bros.. The film opened in the United States on December 12, 2014 to positive reviews.

Unless indicated otherwise, the text in this article is either based on Wikipedia article "Inherent Vice" or another language Wikipedia page thereof used under the terms of the GNU Free Documentation License; or on research by Jahsonic and friends. See Art and Popular Culture's copyright notice.

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