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the Complete Review
the complete review - fiction


Inherent Vice

Thomas Pynchon

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To purchase Inherent Vice

Title: Inherent Vice
Author: Thomas Pynchon
Genre: Novel
Written: 2009
Length: 369 pages
Availability: Inherent Vice - US
Inherent Vice - UK
Inherent Vice - Canada
Inherent Vice - India
Vice caché - France
Natürliche Mängel - Deutschland
Vizio di forma - Italia
Vicio propio - España

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Our Assessment:

B+ : enjoyable Pynchonian mix

See our review for fuller assessment.

Review Summaries
Source Rating Date Reviewer
Boston Globe . 2/8/2009 Richard Eder
Christian Science Monitor . 4/8/2009 Carlo Wolff
Entertainment Weekly A 28/7/2009 Sean Howe
Financial Times . 3/8/2009 Ludovic Hunter-Tilney
FAZ A 31/7/2009 Thomas David
The Globe & Mail . 8/8/2009 Randy Boyagoda
The Guardian . 1/8/2009 Christopher Tayler
The Independent . 31/7/2009 Andy Martin
Independent on Sunday . 9/8/2009 Thomas Leveritt
London Rev. of Books . 10/9/2009 Thomas Jones
The LA Times . 2/8/2009 Carolyn Kellogg
NZZ . 15/8/2009 Angela Schader
New Statesman . 30/7/2009 David Flusfeder
New York D 10/8/2009 Sam Anderson
The NY Rev. of Books . 24/9/2009 Michael Wood
The NY Times B- 4/8/2009 Michiko Kakutani
The NY Times Book Rev. . 23/8/2009 Walter Kirn
The New Yorker . 3/8/2009 Louis Menand
The Observer . 26/7/2009 Sarah Churchwell
Playboy . 22/7/2009 Matt Steigbigel
Rev. of Contemp. Fiction . Fall/2009 Robert L. McLaughlin
Rolling Stone . 6/8/2009 Rob Sheffield
Salon . 31/7/2009 Laura Miller
San Francisco Chronicle . 9/8/2009 Alan Cheuse
Scotland on Sunday . 26/7/2009 Stuart Kelly
The Scotsman . 8/8/2009 Nicholas Lezard
The Spectator . 28/7/2009 Michael Carlson
Sunday Times . 26/7/2009 John Dugdale
The Telegraph . 24/7/2009 Tim Martin
Time . 1/8/2009 Richard Lacayo
The Times . 23/7/2009 Aravind Adiga
TLS . 7/8/2009 Paul Quinn
The Village Voice . 4/8/2009 Zach Baron
Wall Street Journal B- 6/8/2009 Joseph Bottum
The Washington Post A+ 6/8/2009 Michael Dirda
Die Welt . 3/8/2009 Wieland Freund

  Review Consensus:

  Surprisingly readable period-piece, good and good fun

  From the Reviews:
  • "(H)ere the spoofery is mixed with a requiem of sorts for a culture long gone. Not a romantic or sentimental requiem but, as with an epitaph, a haunted phrase carved in unyielding granite. (...) It can be exhausting, like a masquerade party where the continual procession of extravagant arrivals eventually palls. Quite unlike the classic thriller, whose mounting suspense rides upon mounting belief, we are instructed: Donít believe. So why are we here? The doubt breaks in, dispelled before long by Pynchonís deadly invention and the wit and unique lilt of his writing." - Richard Eder, Boston Globe

  • "I liked its wit, style, and grasp of locale, but deplored its cavalier way with plot. The book confounds, entertains, and stumbles in almost equal measure. (...) I suspect that he wrote Inherent Vice in hopes of aligning himself with todayís readers; I donít feel he invested much in his characters, who rarely transcend cartoon level." - Carlo Wolff, Christian Science Monitor

  • "(A)s with Chandler's infamously impossible-to-follow plots, sleuthing the case is hardly the point of Inherent Vice. Savor it instead for Pynchonian linguistic flights and slapstick set pieces. But the nicest surprise of all is the heart-on-sleeve wistfulness that finally peeks through the comic riffing, in the descriptions of Sportello's undying love for Shasta and an elegiac appreciation of the era. (...) The new Pynchon: a beach read and a heartstring puller. It's almost surreal." - Sean Howe, Entertainment Weekly

  • "A manic, although by Pynchonís usual standards surprisingly comprehensible, plot ensues. (...) The intellectual game play is characteristically dazzling. A subplot about a proto-internet system links surfers waiting on their boards for the perfect wave with net-heads at their computers searching for swells and patterns of information. But the ideas are less intensely applied than in Pynchonís previous books." - Ludovic Hunter-Tilney, Financial Times

  • "Inherent Vice ist Helter-Skelter; Inherent Vice ist Pynchons Big Lebowski, in dem Pynchons Dude, der Hippie Doc Sportello, im Los Angeles der späten sechziger Jahre den chandleresken Helden mimt. (...) Der Blick verliert sich im Dunst; Duft von Nebel liegt in der Luft; der angenehme Geruch der Wüste unter dem Straßenpflaster: Pynchon beschreibt die halluzinative Atmosphäre seiner mal in abgetönten Pastellfarben, mal in grellem Neon-Pop gezeichneten Kifferphantasie wirklich sehr schön. (...) Inherent Vice ist eines von Thomas Pynchons unwiderstehlichsten Büchern" - Thomas David, Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung

  • "But remember, we're also in Pynchon territory: Instead of just skillfully trafficking in the stuff of detective fiction, he overloads his novel with the absurdities and convolutions that feature throughout his work -- most immediately evident in the character names (.....) Inherent Vice is significantly shorter and less demanding than other recent Pynchon novels, if ultimately less compelling as well. Having weighed things out, unless I'd get some extra letters behind my last name for the effort, I think I'd watch Fletch twice before reading it a second time." - Randy Boyagoda, The Globe & Mail

  • "Some of this is pretty funny and some is drug-anecdotal in a sub-Hunter Thompson-ish style but, either way, the fast-paced plot appears to hang together. (...) His manic pantomime style isn't exactly well-suited to depicting 3D human figures, but it's difficult not to warm to the barrage of jokes." - Christopher Tayler, The Guardian

  • "Inherent Vice is Pynchon's hymn to the Sixties, both homage and lament. (...) By his standards, Inherent Vice reads less like a novel and more like a 300-page haiku or -- to surrender to the mood of the book -- a song, weaving between soaring, transcendent acid-fuelled highs and aching, suicidal lows. Even amid the dopehead haze, there is a discipline to the absurdity, a logic to the rhetoric that was not there before." - Andy Martin, The Independent

  • "Pynchon is both the US's most serious and most funny writer. With his most accessible book to date -- half Chinatown, half Fear and Loathing, all searing jeremiad about the modern American soul -- he may have come up with something even the British literati can read." - Thomas Leveritt, Independent on Sunday

  • "The experience of reading the novel is probably as close to getting stoned as reading a novel can be. It brings on fits of the giggles and paranoia jags, and badly messes with your short-term memory: the plot, as ever with Pynchon, is bewilderingly hard to follow, the plethora of characters almost impossible to keep track of without taking notes (as it happens, Docís a bit of a compulsive notetaker, to help compensate for his doperís memory). It doesnít, however, make you fall asleep or, despite the many descriptions of the consumption of every conceivable variety of fast food, give you the munchies." - Thomas Jones, London Review of Books

  • "Inherent Vice is Thomas Pynchon doing Raymond Chandler through a Jim Rockford looking glass, starring Cheech Marin (or maybe Tommy Chong). What could easily be mistaken as a paean to 1960s Southern California is also a sly herald of that era's end. (...) (I)f Inherent Vice exhibits nostalgia, it is not for the Los Angeles of yesteryear but for the days when genuine mystery was possible, when Doc's acid trip could be as relevant as Det. Bjornsen's world, when complex layers could both contradict and coexist. It's a love letter to a time when obsessives couldn't get all the answers from computers, when we might embrace the unknowable." - Carolyn Kellogg, The Los Angeles Times

  • "Ganz ohne juristische Fachkenntnis lässt sich Inherent Vice aber auch als eine etwas schmutzigere Variation auf den Begriff der Erbsünde lesen. Und letztlich dient der Titel wohl als nützliche Generalabsolution fŁr die eine und andere lose Schraube im Erzählgefüge und gewisse Steine des Anstosses (über das Frauenbild des Romans etwa wurde hier taktvoll geschwiegen), die Pynchon seinen Lesern immer wieder gern zu Füssen legt." - Angela Schader, Neue Zürcher Zeitung

  • "The tropes of the hard-boiled genre are here: a detective with a half-mended heart and a propensity to be beaten unconscious at crime scenes; a quest to track the missing; a rich folks' nuthouse; the corrupt LAPD. But whereas Chandler once admitted that whenever he didn't know how to advance his plot, he'd have a man walk through a doorway holding a gun, Pynchon just has his detective fire up another joint. It is in the moments away from the stoned haze of plot that this book is at its best. The sentences have their stately beauty, and Pynchon is poignantly good on the heartsick detective" - David Flusfeder, New Statesman

  • "(A) manically incoherent pseudo-noir hippie-mystery that should fit in nicely with the authorís recent series of quirky late-career non-masterpieces (....) None of this is accidental: Pynchon is clearly having a postmodern blast warping the building blocks of detective fiction -- causation, probability, significance, suspense. But it's not quite so much fun for the reader. It's hard to stay invested in a plot in which everything is so casually interconnected. When things finally resolve into one big classic Pynchon parable of conspiratorial corporate greed, the solution seems preordained and therefore totally harmless. It feels like the net of genre constraints has been torn down, which drains the game of most of its meaning. With no suspense and nothing at stake, Pynchon's manic energy just feels like aimless invention." - Sam Anderson, New York

  • "It says a great deal for Pynchon's casual-seeming control of this material that we never lose sight of the tricky plot amid the parade of late-Sixties social types -- or the parade of comic avatars of those types. And as we read, the sense of parody begins to modulate into something more difficult to name: the real generic detective novel, perhaps, but with accents and preoccupations all Pynchon's own." - Michael Wood, The New York Review of Books

  • "Inherent Vice not only reminds us how rooted Mr. Pynchonís authorial vision is in the í60s and í70s, but it also demystifies his work, underscoring the similarities that his narratives -- which mix high and low cultural allusions, silly pranks and gnomic historical references, mischievous puns, surreal dreamlike sequences and a playful sense of the absurd -- share with the work of artists like Bob Dylan, Ken Kesey, Jack Kerouac and even Richard Brautigan. (...) Though Inherent Vice is a much more cohesive performance than the authorís last novel, the bloated and pretentious Against the Day, it feels more like a Classic Comics version of a Pynchon novel than like the thing itself." - Michiko Kakutani, The New York Times

  • "If Doc sounds like a literary joke -- the Private Eye with drooping lids who canít trust the evidence of his own senses -- then he must be a joke with a lesson to impart, since Pynchon isnít the type to make us laugh unless heís really out to make us think." - Walter Kirn, The New York Times Book Review

  • "Inherent Vice does not appear to be a Pynchonian palimpsest of semi-obscure allusions. (I could be missing something, of course. I could be missing everything.) Itís a slightly spoofy take on hardboiled crime fiction, a story in which the characters smoke dope and watch Gilliganís Island instead of sitting around a night club knocking back J&Bs. Itís The Maltese Falcon starring Cheech and Chong, The Big Sleep as told by the hippy-dippy weatherman. Whether you think itís funny depends a little on whether you think Cheech and Chong and the hippy-dippy weatherman are funny for more than about two minutes. Itís funnier than Chandler, anyway." - Louis Menand, The New Yorker

  • "Inherent Vice may be Pynchon's most overtly nostalgic book, featuring a character overcome by a longing he pretends to shrug off. (...) Inherent Vice is often very funny but in the end only gestures toward meaning, significance in semaphore. That said, it is probably Pynchon's most readable novel. Remarkably, it features both a sympathetic protagonist and a recognisable plot, albeit one that is as impossible to summarise as any other Pynchon shaggy dog tale." - Sarah Churchwell, The Observer

  • "Itís his lightest and most accessible to date, with Pynchonís major themes (history as conspiracy, cultural entropy, etc.) appearing in spectral form rather than in the flesh. (...) Inherent Vice laments the erosion of the social, political and ethical possibilities inherent in the protests and upheavals of the 1960s. It shows Pynchon can deliver a rousing, hilarious and streamlined neo-noir tale that touches on his perennial themes without getting entangled in them." - Matt Steigbigel, Playboy

  • "Inherent Vice is a more-than-welcome addition to the Pynchon oeuvre, a reminder of the promises and failures of a brief moment in our history when all the rules were void and all the boundaries erased, and another thrilling ride from our greatest writer." - Robert L. McLaughlin, Review of Contemporary Fiction

  • "Inherent Vice is the funniest book Pynchon has written. It's also a crazed and majestic summary of everything that makes him a uniquely huge American voice. It has the moral fury that's fueled his work from the start -- his ferociously batshit compassion for America and the lost tribes who wander through it. A master of pastiche, Pynchon is working this time in the mode of the hard-boiled detective novel à la Raymond Chandler and Dashiell Hammett, although it's more like a hard-boiled egg scrambled during a late-night munchies attack" - Rob Sheffield, Rolling Stone

  • "Inherent Vice is a sun-struck, pot-addled shaggy dog story that fuses the sulky skepticism of Raymond Chandler with the good-natured scrappiness of The Big Lebowski. It's an inspired formula; the mystery plot supplies the novel with a minimum of structure (as well as confidence that there's some point to the enterprise) and the genre provides ample cover for Pynchon's literary weaknesses. (...) Inherent Vice almost succumbs to the flaws that scuttled Against the Day; in the middle, it certainly founders. (...) What ultimately delivers Inherent Vice from this futility are the stubbornly individualistic imperatives of its borrowed genre." - Laura Miller, Salon

  • "After reading the opening paragraph, I found myself charmed and pleased with the way Pynchon meets the genre square and fair, on its own terms, and makes it his own. My second thought was about how much I enjoyed the rhythm and music of the sentences, and how much I wanted to read -- read "sing" -- along with them." - Alan Cheuse, San Francisco Chronicle

  • "Inherent Vice is Pynchon on an idiosyncratic frolic, and what a joy it is. He is the only truly Dickensian talent of our time." - Stuart Kelly, Scotland on Sunday

  • "The plot is so archetypally Chandlerian that you might think at times that this is nothing more than a pastiche. (...) But do not expect a particularly rounded novel. There might be serious themes bubbling under the surface, enough to make it more than a pure diversion, but it is what Graham Greene might have called an "entertainment"." - Nicholas Lezard, The Scotsman

  • "It sounds dense, ready to send the professors scrambling to their reference libraries, but like all Pynchonís novels, short or long, it is an almost hermetically sealed world, which you can navigate best by surrendering to authorial sensibility. (...) Inherent Vice is Pynchon looking back on an era, caught up in its own stoned entropy, and looking back on himself, Lot 49 Redux. You donít have to have been there; if youíre willing, heíll take you there." - Michael Carlson, The Spectator

  • "Excess is the recurring failure here. There's also too much druggy humour, too many nubile women throwing themselves at men, too many mentions of the cult-leader killer Charles Manson, and too many sentences ending in ellipses. Some of the comedy is very funny, however, and Pynchon's novel is also full of superb dialogue and lovely descriptive passages that show that, at 72, the outstanding gifts that led in the 1960s and 1970s to comparisons with Joyce and Melville have not deserted him." - John Dugdale, Sunday Times

  • "Unlike much of Pynchon's other work, however, Inherent Vice wears its learning lightly, intermixing it with dialogue that zings, jokes that never overstay their welcome and a stream of hilariously bad puns and wickedly acute observations. Who would have thought it? One of America's most wilful and obscure writers has produced the most enjoyable beach read of the summer." - Tim Martin, The Telegraph

  • "So even if this is second-tier Pynchon, it's still entertainment of a high order. (...) All the same, don't expect that by the end of this book you'll be vouchsafed a clear picture of just what those forces are. Pynchon doesn't do closure. What he does, and brilliantly, is open windows onto a universe where we're all in custody, but we're none of us sure who put on the cuffs." - Richard Lacayo, Time

  • "This isn't quite a noir novel: the tone is more brown -- the colour of marijuana haze that obscures things in smoggy, morally confused Los Angeles (.....) Yet, if the caricature and hyperbole sometimes become tedious, the language, often in the same paragraph, can modulate to a spooky level of precision; Pynchon can skewer American popular culture better than anyone else around (.....) Inherent Vice, like any Pynchon novel, gets bogged down in the middle -- the plot becomes incoherent, the characters repetitive -- but to reward you for persevering the last quarter of the book is superb" - Aravind Adiga, The Times

  • "One of the many fascinations of this absorbing and frequently funny crime novel is the way in which its relatively flimsy structure holds Pynchon's familiar obsessions and techniques. (...) In the end, the hardboiled style cannot fully contain the keening, yearning register that so often enters Pynchon's writing when he contrasts the world as it is with the world that might have been, and the world that might yet be." - Paul Quinn, Times Literary Supplement

  • "Massive plot confusion is, of course, a noir tradition, from Chandler's knotty intrigues to Faulkner's notoriously incoherent script for The Big Sleep to the dazed indifference of Altman's The Long Goodbye. Pynchon -- and this will surprise no one -- is far more interested in the fog banks and blind alleys and conspiratorial demons that haunt Los Angeles than he is in solving who did what to whom. (...) It's this kind of affectionate, low-key psychedelic nostalgia that is the upshot of Inherent Vice, which is neither as ambitious as Gravity's Rainbow nor as abstruse as Against the Day. A lark for Pynchon, however, still qualifies as a more or less major novel." - Zach Baron, The Village Voice

  • "Inherent Vice is the closest to beach reading that Thomas Pynchon has ever produced. (...) Youíd think it would be easy to tell these characters apart, but theyíre all so blurry-edged that in the middle part of the book -- which drags; oh, man, how it drags -- you canít quite remember which of the goofy names that are Mr. Pynchonís trademark belongs to which character. (...) Itís a pretty strange bit of fabric Mr. Pynchon ends up with -- a kind of paranoid blanket, embroidered with conspiracy theories -- but it manages to cover the mystery elements and put the story to bed in reasonable shape." - Joseph Bottum, Wall Street Journal

  • "Imagine the cult film The Big Lebowski as a novel, with touches of Chinatown and L.A. Confidential thrown in for good measure. Imagine your favorite Raymond Chandler or James Crumley mystery retold as a hippie whodunit, set in Gordita Beach, Calif., at the very end of the 1960s. Imagine a great American novelist, one who is now a septuagenarian, writing with all the vivacity and bounce of a young man who has just discovered girls. Most of all, imagine sentences and scenes that are so much fun to read that you wish Inherent Vice were twice as long as it is. (...) Inherent Vice may not be the Great American Novel, but it's certainly a Great American Read -- a terrific pastiche of California noir, wonderfully amusing throughout (and hard to quote from in a family newspaper because of the frequent use of, uh, colorful spoken language) and a poignant evocation of the last flowering of the '60s, just before everything changed and passed into myth or memory" - Michael Dirda, The Washington Post

  • "Schwarzweiß ist nur das Frauenbild des Meisters; der Rest des Romans ist mindestens bonbonfarben und gern neongrell. (...) Dass man in diesem Vierhundertseiter dabei schon mal die Übersicht verliert, gehört dazu; manch ein Krimi ist ja nur deshalb berühmt, weil das Publikum bewundernd zu seiner Undurchschaubarkeit aufschaut. Zum Pynchonesken aber gehören auch die große Politik, die Gesellschaftsdiagnose, die schonungslose Analyse des militärisch-industriellen Komplexes und eine beinharte Kapitalismuskritik" - Wieland Freund, Die Welt

Please note that these ratings solely represent the complete review's biased interpretation and subjective opinion of the actual reviews and do not claim to accurately reflect or represent the views of the reviewers. Similarly the illustrative quotes chosen here are merely those the complete review subjectively believes represent the tenor and judgment of the review as a whole. We acknowledge (and remind and warn you) that they may, in fact, be entirely unrepresentative of the actual reviews by any other measure.

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The complete review's Review:

       Inherent Vice could at first be mistaken for an homage to the American noir novel, transposed to 1970 California and with its P.I. protagonist not a hard-drinking man in a suit but a hard-(weed-)toking hippie who has: "the look of a private gumshoe, or do I mean gumsandal" and calls his operation 'LSD Investigations' ("Location, Surveillance, Detection", he explains, if anyone asks). The opening lines could be straight out of any hardboiled novel from the 1930s through the 50s:

     She came along the alley and up the back steps the way she always used to. Doc hadn't seen her for over a year. Nobody had.
       And the set-up is also reminiscent of that black-and-white era, as one of the dames from Larry 'Doc' Sportello's past comes to him worried that her new flame, super-rich developer Mickey Wolfmann, is being targeted by Wolfmann's wife in "some creepy little scheme" that will see him institutionalized and the wife and her lover take his money.
       Pretty much the first lead he follows leads him into something that, as his sometimes nemesis Detective Lieutenant Bigfoot Bjornson says, is:
too real and deep to hallucinate your worthless hippie ass out of.
       Real and deep it may be, but Sportello does go on digging -- while also lighting up frequently enough to miss and mix up a lot in the mind-blurring fog that results.
       It's California in 1970, and Inherent Vice is also a nostalgic look at the end of an era. The crime novel -- fiction about the loss of innocence -- is as good a way as any of getting at the seedy underside and the darker future. Charles Manson may have been arrested, but this is no longer Raymond Chandler -- or even James Ellroy -- territory:
bye-bye Black Dahlia, rest in peace Tom Ince, yes we've seen the last of those good old-time L.A. murder mysteries I'm afraid. We've found the gateway to hell, and it's asking far too much of your L.A. civilian not to want to go crowding on through it, horny and giggling as always, looking for that latest thrill.
       These 60s were no golden age -- Pynchon repeatedly refers to Watts and Manson, and, of course, looming in the background there is always the horror of Vietnam (though this remains very much in the background, only infrequently bubbling up, as in a brief Kissinger TV shot ("ve should chust bombp dem")) -- but the future, despite all that is tantalizing about it, always looks even more ominous. Of course the drug-induced paranoia doesn't help ..... Still:
He wished he could believe her more, but the business was unforgiving, and life in psychedelic-sixties L.A. offered more cautionary arguments than you could wave a joint at against too much trust, and the seventies were looking no more promising.
       Glimpses of what lies ahead also come with the early use of the Internet-forerunner ARPAnet -- "it's like acid, a whole 'nother strange world -- time, space, all that shit" -- to the more mundane (a fascination with television remote controls ("these zapper units you can change the channel with and not even have to leave the couch").
       Sportello is an easy-going but fairly dedicated P.I., but the case(s) he finds himself involved in make for a very complicated web indeed. Raymond Chandler's plots look straightforward compared to some of the paces Pynchon puts his protagonist through -- and the level of drug-consumption does not make for clearer minds. But drugs -- mainly pot -- are very much part of this scene, and both the fog they leave the characters in, as well as a good dose of paranoia are entirely appropriate in this Pynchon-world.
       For all the complexity of the web Pynchon weaves, his underlying philosophy, common to all his books, is also apparent:
     "I'd be very surprised if they weren't connected," Vehi said.
     "That's because you think everything is connected," Sortilège said.
       Much of the fun of Inherent Vice is in these odd connections (and, as much, in how Pynchon makes them), though he's too much of a rambling, self-indulgent author to offer the easier satisfactions of the best crime fiction. Pynchon does his own thing -- here just as much as in all his fiction -- and while it can be enervating much of it is also a fun ride.
       (And, yes: as always, there are also the usual Pynchon touches: song lyrics, strange names. Old habits (Or: signature styles ?) die hard, apparently.)
       Inherent Vice is a complicated crime thriller, and Pynchon (and Doc) meander a bit far off the beaten paths along the way, but for the most part it is an agreeably confounding trip -- and it turns out to be surprisingly satisfying, even just on the investigative-mystery level. And Pynchon gets the period and atmosphere (smoke-filled ...) down just right.

- M.A.Orthofer, 3 August 2009

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Inherent Vice: Reviews: Thomas Pynchon: Other books by Thomas Pynchon under review: Other books of interest under review:
  • See Index of Contemporary American fiction

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About the Author:

       American author Thomas Pynchon was born in 1937. He won the 1974 National Book Award for Gravity's Rainbow, and among his other books are V., The Crying of Lot 49, and Mason and Dixon.

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© 2009-2011 the complete review

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