Wednesday, January 13, 2010

Vineland by Thomas Pynchon, a deeply unsatisfying ending

I hate to say bad things about a Thomas Pynchon book, but this one really went nowhere. What I mean is that it was structurally bad. The whole premise of it was that part of the end happened at the beginning, then the back stories and side stories leading up to it were told, and then it would all come back together and the ending part would finish up, giving closure to the whole thing. So far so good, right? The only problem is that the end doesn't tie anything together whatsoever, doesn't present almost any action that could serve as a continuation of the very beginning, and instead just sort of peters out. The start of the book has a federal agent from Zoyd Wheeler's past come to his home in Humboldt County, California, and repossess it with a huge swat team. He hides out and sends his daughter south with her boyfriend's band to get away from the heat. A pretty big lead in, right? Well at the end Zoyd just acquiesces to losing his house and the federal agent is recalled at the last minute before doing his nefarious objective. Then he dies. And that's about it. A very large part of the plot told in the backstory, in fact most of the backstory, relates to Zoyd's daughter's mother, who has been missing in action since she was a baby. They meet up, but the scene is portrayed almost as an afterthought, narrated in the third person through only a few paragraphs and no dialogue whatsoever. Many of the threads at the end just sort of give up the ghost.

It could have been a real gotterdamurung of an ending if only it had been carried through a little bit more. Pynchon reveals that the whole thing was really about reconciliation and not about fireworks, yet from the standpoint of basic story logic it's almost not believable that after everything that happened leading up to the ending there wouldn't be strife at all. I mean what was all the endless preparation for, building and building and building in tension, if the end is just everyone saying that was fun and going home?

I'm not saying that it's a bad book, but I am saying that a lot of the potential is sort of squandered.

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