by Thomas. Pynchon

Hardcover, 1990




Secker & Warburg (1990) (1990), Edition: Stated First Edition, 384 pages


Vineland, a zone of blessed anarchy in northern California, is the last refuge of hippiedom, a culture devastated by the sobriety epidemic, Reaganomics, and the Tube. Here, in an Orwellian 1984, Zoyd Wheeler and his daughter Prairie search for Prairie's long-lost mother, a Sixties radical who ran off with a narc. Vineland is vintage Pynchon, full of quasi-allegorical characters, elaborate unresolved subplots, corny songs ("Floozy with an Uzi"), movie spoofs (Pee-wee Herman in The Robert Musil Story), and illicit sex (including a macho variation on the infamous sportscar scene in V.).

User reviews

LibraryThing member Widsith
Vineland is downplayed by Pynchon fans and completely ignored by curious newbies, who tend to pass over it in favour either of the big-game status of one of his doorstop meganovels, or of the appealing slenderness of The Crying of Lot 49. Shame. All his gifts and his mysteries are on display here,
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wrapped up in one of his most enjoyable, inexplicable, and lushly all-enveloping plots. Rereading it now, I’m more convinced than ever that it’s terribly underrated.

The essential storyline, if there is one, concerns the quest of fourteen-year-old Prairie to find her long-lost mother Frenesi, a hippy-chick revolutionary turned government informer, who has left a string of lovesick boys and girls wherever she’s been. But around this kernel Pynchon deposits layer upon layer of sub-plots, super-plots, side-plots and inter-plots until you are wading thigh-deep through new characters, new locations, new sensations, on every page.

It reads chaotically, but the chaos is intricately plotted. Pynchon is doing twenty things at once in this book, and all of them brilliantly. Prairie’s story is set in the 1980s, but the key events in Frenesi’s life happened fifteen or twenty years before that – and what Vineland is really about is what happened to that generation. How the counterculture kids of the 1960s turned into the Reagan voters of the 1980s. In that sense it’s a political novel.

OK, a political novel, all right – but that doesn’t really explain the experience of this book, does it? Because along the way we have a psychic detective investigating a Godzilla attack, we have a UFO abduction during a passenger flight to Hawaii, we have a community of kunoichi, or female ninjas, in the Californian hills, a political prison deep in a nuclear fallout shelter, a Tokyo sex auction, a community of zombie-ghosts, and a potted history of mallrats. Often these incidents are slipped in obliquely, so that you put the book down blinking, as though coming up from hypnosis, thinking vaguely – did I really read that…? Did I get that impression from the words on the page, or was I imagining something on my own initiative? Pynchon is a master at palming ideas off unseen, adding more and more dependent clauses to his sentences, pushing the key information further and further down, so that it seeps in through a kind of osmosis and, though you understand what he’s talking about, you don’t quite recall being told.

This sense of fluidity is abetted by his extraordinary ability to slip-'n'-slide time and place when you least expect it, jumping in and out of different timezones without the usual formalities but without, also, any jarringly ‘experimental’ effects. Have a look at what happens during this conversation sometime in the 1970s, where Prairie’s dad Zoyd is talking to a friend about finding somewhere to stay near Frenesi’s family:

“On the one hand, you don’t want this turning into your mother-in-law’s trip, on the other hand, they might know about someplace to crash, if so don’t forget your old pal, a garage, a woodshed, a outhouse, don’t matter, ’s just me and Chloe.”

“Chloe your dog? Oh yeah, you brought her up?”

“Think she’s pregnant. Don’t know if it happened here or down south.” But they all turned out to look like their mother, and each then went on to begin a dynasty in Vineland, from among one of whose litters, picked out for the gleam in his eye, was to come Zoyd and Prairie’s dog, Desmond. By that time Zoyd had found a piece of land with a drilled well up off Vegetable Road, bought a trailer from a couple headed back to L.A., and was starting to put together a full day’s work…

Whoa, whoa, whoa, did you catch that? We just panned down to the dog for half a sentence, and before you know it we’ve followed two generations of puppies all the way through a quick ten years, so that Pynchon can now sleight-of-hand straight into a conversation in the '80s without having to do any ponderous throat-clearing of the ‘Several years later…’ variety. He pulls this shit on every page and he is GOOD at it. Most of them you won’t even notice.

Pynchon’s women, as always, are cool and concupiscent, but the horniness is balanced here – uniquely in his oeuvre – by having a wry female protagonist who is never sexualised. Prairie is unflappable, observant, the writing never patronises her – she’s one of the great teenage girls in fiction.

Frenesi, by contrast, is the archetypal Pynchonic femme fatale, replaying the author’s usual paranoid sexual fantasy of how nice girls just can’t resist the manly charms of the Asshole King, who goes here by the name of Brock Vond, a federal neofascist who’s eagerly prosecuting the Republicans’ War on Drugs. A lot of people who discuss Vineland find Frenesi’s motivation implausible – would she really throw everything away, her politics, her principles, her daughter, just because she can’t stop fucking this guy? And is Pynchon really going to hinge his entire Heath Robinson plot on such a flimsy velleity?

Yeah, he is, and the book doesn’t get enough credit for playing such a calculated move. ‘I’m not some pure creature,’ Frenesi agonises at one point, during a painful imagined break-up with a girlfriend who put her on the usual pedestal – ‘you know what happens when my pussy’s runnin' the show…’ It’s a dynamic played out in almost all his books, but the collateral resonances are nowhere made more obvious, the D/S overtones in her submission to Brock prefiguring something essential about what happened to her whole generation:

Brock Vond’s genius was to have seen in the activities of the sixties left not threats to order but unacknowledged desires for it.

There’s the whole novel in a sentence. Does Pynchon believe it? Say rather that it’s his secret fear. That’s why it’s necessary for it to play out on the interpersonal level too, which pretty soon, given his characters, comes round to some kind of Sylvia Plathlike every-woman-adores-a-fascist deal.

Vineland is infused with a genuine, unfashionable nostalgia for the acid dreams of the Sixties, but a nostalgia tempered by the resolve to assess the roots of its failures as time went by and ‘revolution went blending into commerce’. Against these incursions all he can offer are the tried and tested defences of sex, drugs, and rock 'n' roll.

Mucho went to the stereo and put on The Best of Sam Cooke, volumes 1 and 2, and then they sat together and listened, both of them, to the sermon, one they knew and felt their hearts comforted by, though outside spread the lampless wastes, the unseen paybacks, the heartless power of the scablands garrison state the green free America of their childhoods even then was turning into.

You can sink into this book and swim in it, and the pages will close up over your head. It’s just beautifully made – hilarious and sexy and sad and constantly provocative. And it has more to say about what the 1980s were really about than any number of Brett Easton Ellis or Martin Amis or Jonathan Coe novels can manage. Perhaps it’s not objectively his best book, but it is, for my money, his most fun.
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LibraryThing member TheBentley
First, there were the beat poets. Then there was Kurt Vonnegut. And somewhere in the middle of them stands Thomas Pynchon. I don't think Vineland is as difficult to read as many people think it is. The real trick is that you have to read it FAST--and I don't mean you have to finish the book
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quickly. Read it for fifteen minutes a day if you want to, but for those fifteen minutes, just keep going with total concentration. Don't bother trying to find the subject of the sentence you just finished (it's somewhere a couple of paragraphs back anyway). And if you catch yourself saying, "Wait, I missed something. That didn't make sense," don't worry. You didn't miss anything. It really didn't make sense--not yet anyway. Pynchon is on a surf-board in drug-infested waters. You either have to ride the surfboard with him or get out of the water. Like the beat poets, Pynchon in Vineland is dark and angry and gleeful and absurd all at the same time--an approach that suits his subject matter (the cultivation and handling of snitches from the crushing of the 60's revolution through the war on drugs of the 80's) perfectly. If you don't like the beat poets and you don't like Kurt Vonnegut, don't bother with Vineland. It will probably just frustrate you. Personally, while I certainly didn't find the book life-changing, I found it bold, challenging, and completely unique--which earns it respect if not love.
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LibraryThing member billmcn
A friend of mine gave up on Vineland about halfway through, and the only thing she could remember about the book was wondering to herself, "Where did the ninjas come from?" What she didn't realize is that Pynchon is one of the great living masters of where-did-the-ninjas-come-from fiction. If
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that's your thing you'll appreciate the particular brand of disorientation he puts forth here. Vineland is not the best of the lot, but still pretty damn good.
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LibraryThing member DRFP
I'm not really big on post-modern writers, so I'm not likely to be Pynchon's target audience or a natural loyal fan. I dipped my toe in (as many do) with the short, but still baffling, The Crying of Lot 49. Despite a playfulness to that text I didn't get much out of it or feel compelled to keep
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going with Pynchon. However, recently I've been dabbling in later authors fond of Pynchon, so thought the time was right to give him another go and to check out another of the "safer" options from his bibliography.

The result? A mixed bag. There's some wonderful characterization in Vineland that is especially touching, moments both big and small, that makes a real impression. Then there are gaping holes in the story - like why Frenesi acts in quite the way she does. Pynchon makes no bones about the fact she's a cold character, but it feels a little weak to be told Frenesi sold everyone out because she doesn't really care that much and she has a thing for authority figures.

Probably the best thing in Vineland is the sense of loss that exudes from the novel. There's a palpable feeling that events took a wrong turn in American history starting in the Nixon era, and there's no way back at all. The events that unfold in Frenesi's past are really quite bleak to read as the optimism and good intentions of the 60s are blasted away by a ruthless government machine and undermined from within - a purge that continued in to the 80s and the Reagan years. Reading all this from another era, 2013, debilitated by the excesses of neo-liberalism made for quite depressing reading (at least for someone like me, left of centre).

Of course, there are the wacky elements to this story that mustn't be forgotten. The ninjas, the Godzilla monster, the Star Trek references, the man who has sex with his car... These are all quite funny, and there is a lot of humour in the book, but it's all very post-modern and not all of it hangs together well. The ending with Brock is particularly "WTF-inducing" and feels a bit like a cop-out.

Still, if there are ropy sections to this novel, I'm willing to forgive them for the general heartfelt feeling the novel is written with and it's many other amusing sections. Vineland hasn't exactly made me a convert, but it has at least convinced me it might not be such a bad thing to go read Inherent Vice, though Gravity's Rainbow might have to wait a little longer still.
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LibraryThing member actonbell
Vineland, by Thomas Pynchon, took me a long time to read, but not because I didn't like it or that it was boring. Actually, I've been trying to nail down the reason why...this is my second attempt at Pynchon, the first one being The Crying of Lot 49, a book that left me in the dust, an expression
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that in this case means, "I was left wondering, what just happened here? What was that all about?" However, Vineland is much easier to understand, but I still struggled a bit with it.

Vineland attempts to make sense out of the sixties, tries to put forth a different accounting than the history that was rewritten for us by the conservatives who later won control of the government. The characters are interesting ones, whose lives are the result of the way they got caught up with or reacted to The Revolution. Much of their lives are spent in a constant state of paranoia. Pynchon also makes many references to The Tube, since children of the sixties were the first to grow up sitting in front of televisions and so the first to have their opinions shaped by this medium. Actually, his television and popular music references are hilarious.

It was while I was reading Pynchon's funny lyrics and television allusions that it finally dawned on me why David Foster Wallace was compared to Pynchon--they both make maximum use of shared cultural experiences as a way to connect with their readers. Pynchon made up some funny, unlikely titles for programs, which is exactly what DFW did for Infinite Jest. In fact, DFW's movie list occupied a huge end-note section in the back of that book.

So, why is Pynchon so much harder for me to read? It's got to be his sentence construction, which I'm too groggy to explore right now, but I will. Later.
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LibraryThing member vyode
1.50$ flawless 1st edition off amazon. see prices of other pynchon 1st eds...
nearly every chapter introduces a scene, flashes back, & then rejoins itself...
can't help but get the impression pynchon is thoroughly pissed off at television...
LibraryThing member clong
Vineland is my second Pynchon novel, and it left me with mixed feelings. I loved the first 100 pages or so of this book, but I started losing interest as Pynchon started cycling through layer after layer of characters and story-in-story construction in an 62 page monster chapter. After that I never
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really completely reengaged in the story, but I still found a variety of things to like about it.

Reading Pynchon is often hard work, but hard work with a payoff that justifies the effort. I suspect that his books are ones that can be re-read several times, with new things clicking into place each time. He seems to be one of those authors who inspire strong reaction pro and con; I have to put myself squarely in the pro column. This is dense, funny, ambitious storytelling of the highest order leavened with generous portions of smart absurdity; even when it falls short it’s still a fun ride.

Vineland gives us lots of colorful characters, but seldom focuses on any one of them for long. My favorite was Zoyd, the aging drug-addled hippie who periodically has to convince Authority that he’s still crazy to continue to qualify for government handouts. To the extent that there is a single protagonist for the book, I suppose it’s got to be Frenesi, a tragic character whose motivations I never really understood (beyond the fact that authority figures turned her on in a big way). She is a character whom we primarily see through others’ eyes, especially in the first half of the book.

Vineland clearly is trying to say something about what’s happened to the US since Vietnam. Somehow it feels much scarier after eight years of the G.W. Bush administration than it would have felt previously (which is not to deny that Bush’s immediate predecessor seems to have thought primarily with the same part of his anatomy that drives this book’s villain’s actions).

I’ll definitely plan to read more by Pynchon. I suppose I should put Gravity’s Rainbow on the wishlist.
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LibraryThing member paradoxosalpha
I guzzled this then-new novel down with fascination and delight in less than forty-eight hours during my senior year as a college student in 1990. (Was there chemical assistance in this herculean reading effort? I suspect that there was.) At the time, it seemed like a thematic sequel to The Crying
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of Lot 49. It also set up a lot of tropes and themes that I was happy to see Pynchon revisit in his later books.
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LibraryThing member owenino
There is a great deal to say about this book, but here I'll just say I think it is Pynchon's greatest and most central novel. It is not his most dazzling, brilliant, sprawling, outwardly ambitious, and all those other things professional reviewers like to say. But I think it has the most heart and
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is his best effort to express what has gone wrong with this country of ours. And, it is beautifully, carefully written, in a sustained, consistent way.
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LibraryThing member LostFrog
'Kay, this was really boring, and annoying, and Thomas Pynchon, you are a very strange man. Bad book. Or at least a very dislikable one, in my mind.
LibraryThing member MayaP
For ages I hadn’t a clue what was going on, so confusing, but in such an entertaining, beguiling way that I ploughed on, regardless. Then, it was as if someone threw a switch in my brain and All Became Clear and then I started to love it. I probably need to read it again now - at least
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Vineland reads like Jack Kerouac trying to write a ‘real’ novel and there’s nothing wrong with that.
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LibraryThing member HadriantheBlind
A big thick rambling Pynchon. It isn't really very bad, but it's not as illuminating or dense or rambling as his other works. It has some criticisms of the animalistic pleasures of the 60s, the tyranny of the Nixon era, and television, but that isn't really extraordinary at all. It just is. I have
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no feelings either way about this.

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LibraryThing member figre
The first chapter or two will not prepare you for the rest of this book. Maybe it was because I had just finished books by Jasper Fforde and Christopher Moore (fine writers with a sense of humor and a touch of the absurd) that made me think that this would be a similar “romp”. I mean, what can
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you expect when the book begins by talking about an ex-hippie who is afraid he will miss his appointment with the media so that the annual event of throwing himself through a store front window will hit the evening news? But, without losing that absurdity, without losing the feeling that you are enjoying every aspect and every story within this tale, the book moves from lightness to a density that sneaks up on you. This is not a quick summer read. This is a tale of stories within stories within stories where you have to pay attention, or you’ll lose just who’s talking about whom. (I didn’t keep accurate count, but I would bet that, at one point, the book reached a fourth level of story within story, and still dug its way back out with satisfaction.) There is a touch of paranoia here, and that is to be expected when radicalism meets Nixonism and Reaganism. There is also a touch of absurd – for example, female ninja-types killing with long deaths. There are complex characters – ones you root for, but are not convinced you like. And the layers of story complexity mesh nicely with the complexity of characters and with the complex layers of society affecting those characters. Pay attention – there is a lot going on here. But it is well worth the effort.
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LibraryThing member autumnesf
Follows a group of hippies that become informants...and those that don't. Good book.
LibraryThing member grizzle
Parts of this dreamy book come back to me at the strangest times. The paranoia of the Nixon era wafts from the story like pot smoke. Somehow there is enough room to slip in blond amazon ninjas and mysterious japanese sea creatures in with a thoughtful layering of parallel histories.
LibraryThing member RodV
I've lost count of all the aborted attempts I've made to read this book. I devoured Gravity's Rainbow and V., but Vineland stops me dead in my tracks every time. Howard Bloom--a Pynchon proselytizer--said that there's not one worthwhile sentence in it, and although I don't agree with that, every
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attempt I've made to read it has left me with the distinct feeling that the work as a whole is probably not particularly worthwhile.
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LibraryThing member Ma_Washigeri
Dithering between 3 and 4 stars. I think I missed a lot - whether through having missed immersion in the America of the times or whether just memory loss... but he writes so well I didn't care. The book was an an epic journey and I expect it to play on in my head for quite some time. I love the
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seamless movement between what might be reality and the surreal. Having read very little North American writing I don't have much to compare it with.
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LibraryThing member dbsovereign
Pynchon's books are difficult to describe as plot takes a back seat to the actual unfolding. In this book he takes us back to a very much Pynchon-imbued 70s-era California that acts as something of microcosm for what he thought was going on back then. His ode to Ronald Reagan's War on Drugs set in
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Humboldt County..."a fractal halo of complications that might go on forever."
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LibraryThing member HarryMacDonald
OK, others have reviewed this in a more documentary/empirical sense. Let me do what I generally avoid, namely give a personal reaction to what has, as I said, been well-enough described by others. Pynchon's immediate predecessor-book, the much-idolized GRAVITY'S RAINBOW, showed me a writer who had
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definitley gotten, as we say in the country "above his raisin'", meaning, for those who don't get it, that he had become literarily smug, flabby, and self-involved. Now this book VINELAND shows worse: clear evidence of a literary mind out of control. This book was heavy-handed, a yawner from base to apex.
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LibraryThing member Ma_Washigeri
Dithering between 3 and 4 stars. I think I missed a lot - whether through having missed immersion in the America of the times or whether just memory loss... but he writes so well I didn't care. The book was an an epic journey and I expect it to play on in my head for quite some time. I love the
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seamless movement between what might be reality and the surreal. Having read very little North American writing I don't have much to compare it with.
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LibraryThing member amerynth
Thomas Pynchon's "Vineland" was a really difficult read for me -- Pynchon has an unusual way with language that I really didn't care for -- often I had no idea what was going on.... only to come up for air and say "oh, okay, that's what this is about" only to be submerged in dense prose again and
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restarting the cycle of confusion.

This was my first read of a book by Pynchon so it's possible I just chose the wrong one. This is more or less a book about a mother and daughter who are unknown to each other and longing for each other, in a weird spy-like, counterculture 60's setting.

Not really my cup of tea.
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LibraryThing member tmph
Aghh. It's a mess of a book; though very Pynchon. I did not like it 68 pages in, but continued because I liked, and wanted to find out what happened to, the character Frenesi who left her daughter and husband to run off with a government agent! I've owned the book since 1990; just finished it.
LibraryThing member PilgrimJess
"When power corrupts, it keeps a log of its progress, written into the most sensitive memory device, the human face."

This novel tells the story of the people whose lives were touched by Frenesi Gates, a one-time sixties radical who turns government informer and goes into hiding, abandoning her
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husband and young daughter.

The novel opens in the fictional Northern Californian district of 'Vineland' where Zoyd Wheeler, Frenesi's ex-husband, is living in semi-seclusion with his 14-year-old daughter, Prairie. When Zoyd learns that Prairie is being targeted by a charismatic federal prosecutor, Brock Vond, who first convinced Fresesi to betray her friends, Zoyd sends Prairie away however she is still keen to know her mother.

As the novel progresses all of the main characters converge on Vineland at the large annual reunion of Frenesi's extended family. Brock Vond lowers himself from a helicopter in an attempt to kidnap Prairie as she sleeps alone in the woods but just as he is about to grab her, the funding for his secret program is cut and it is he who is winched away.

Vineland spans from the 1960s to the mid-1980s. The novel covers the paranoia of the Nixon years, the end of the hippie movement, the birth of Reaganite politics and the main themes are the corrupting influence of power and the death of idealism.

The prose is dense, Pynchon moves fluidly in his narrative from character to character and between time settings picking up and dropping plot lines seemingly at whim. Now whilst I found it marginally better than the previous novel by the author that I'd read (Crying of Lot 49) I cannot say that I particularly enjoyed this one either. Despite comments on the blurb to the contrary, I didn't find it "exhilarating and wretchedly funny" nor did I find it "beautifully structured" rather I found it self-indulgent and rather dull. What kept me going was an interest in seeing just whether Ferensi and Prairie would be reconciled and whether Vond would get his comeuppance but found the ending a let-down as well. I suspect that this will be something of a marmite book, you will either love or hate it, unfortunately I'm in the latter camp.
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