"And they never forgave us," Mucho went to the stereo and put on The Best of Sam Cooke, volumes 1 and 2, and they sat together and listened, both of them this time, 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 scabland garrison state the green free America of their childhoods even then was turning into.
|Penguin Books, 1991|
So let's see if I get this all straight here, In the mid 60's Zoyd Wheeler and his buddies in Gordita Beach have a psychedelic surf combo named The Corvairs gigging around the Inland Empire. Somewhere near El Paso, on one of their gigs, Zoyd hooks up with Frenesi Gates who is on the lam, kinda sorta, from a turn in a militant anti-establishment hippie gang known as the 24 fps, They were something of a documentary film group who liked to stir up shit on college campuses and film it happening. Frenesi had a major role in turning the formerly uptight buttoned down College of the Surf into its own self contained nation called The People's Republic of Rock and Roll. This came about by the seemingly innocuous introduction of a joint shared between two students, whose eyes were opened at once onto the oppressively fascist Nixonian truth of their USA, and fueled somewhat by popular professor of mathematics, Weed Atman. Frenesi and Weed have a hot affair of sorts going on the side, but unknown to Frenesi's comrades in the 24 fps, Frenesi has been also ensnared by the mesmeric Brock Vond, a federal prosecutor who has made it his mission to eradicate hippies and their drugs permanently from the landscape. Brock Vond seems to have the inexhaustible backings of the government behind him, giving him free reign to use whatever means needed to accomplish his mission. Frenisi, thanks to Brock's sexual manipulation, is something of a double agent until she goes off the grid and runs into Zoyd.
But our pal Zoyd's got his own issues. He's been set up by DEA federale Hector Zuniga to turn stoolie on Gordita Beach's marijuana supplier. Zoyd and Frenesi tangle briefly before she's swept into hiding by Brock Vonn. Frenesi's pals in the 24 fps include DL Chastain, who herself is a female ninja (yes, a lot like Uma Thurman's character in Kill Bill) who is later lured into a bizarre assassination attempt on Brock Vond in Japan by Ralph Wayvone, a sort of nefarious millionaire with connections to the underworld. DL Chastain will pose as a Japanese schoolgirl prostitute and seduce Brock Vond into a compromising situation wherein she'll deliver a Vibrating Palm death-blow on him, from which he'll live approximately one year before dropping dead of a heart attack. Brock Vond gets hip to Wayvone's scheme to kill him and arranges a substitute patsy to meet DL Chastain in her slutty little schoolgirl disguise by kidnapping Takeshi Fumimota and sending him into The Gentlemen's Tits and Ass Club in his stead. Before getting kidnapped by Brock and his agents, Takeshi has his hands full investigating the total destruction of Chipco by what appears to be a giant dinosaur-like taloned footprint, not unlike Japan's favorite celluloid monster Gojira! But instead, Takeshi and DL tangle and Takeshi gets laid the Vibrating Palm on him. Wayvone, realizing Brock has outsmarted him, whisks DL back to the U.S. Takeshi follows her, after discovering he's got about a year to live thanks to the deadly Vibrating Palm that DL laid upon him.
Where does this leave Zoyd? Remember Zoyd? He's the sap in the surfadelic combo who had the bad luck to fall in love with Frenesi Gates, who has left him high and dry with a daughter named Prairie before disappearing. Brock Vond eventually hooks up with Zoyd and frames him with a shit-ton of marijuana. Or was it Hector Zuniga who framed Zoyd? Shit, now I can't remember myself, and I just read the damn book about a week ago! Anyway, Zoyd's looking at something like 900 years in prison if he doesn't come clean on Frenesi's whereabouts. 'Course he doesn't know, and neither does anyone else.
Now dig, all this is told in retrospect of sorts through various characters in the present day, in this case 1984 in Reagan's America. It's come to a head because Zoyd has been paid a visit from Hector Zuniga again after all these years since the wild and crazy hippie 60's. Now Zoyd is older, mellower, sadder and living on mental disability checks. Only thing is, to keep these checks coming in Zoyd has to perform some kind of public act of insanity once a year, like jumping through a plate-glass window for TV cameras. Hector reappears in Zoyd's life, looking for Frenesi Gates, with word of warning that Brock Vond is back on the scene. But Hector is now addicted to his own narcotic, The Tube, meaning that one-eyed monster sitting in household living rooms across the U.S.A. Hector quotes Star Trek, Gilligan's Island and The Brady Bunch indiscriminately as he carries out some quest to film a documentary on the drug-fueled 60's produced by one Sid Liftoff and which he hopes he can get Frenesi Gates to star in. The Tube is this ubiquitous force that's got Frenesi masturbating to Ponch and Jon in CHiPs as though "some Cosmic Fascist had spliced in a DNA sequence requiring this form of seduction and initiation into the dark joys of social control."
This all goes to show that Vineland is Pynchon somewhere between the grandiose chaos of Gravity's Rainbow and the loopiness of Inherent Vice. The connection is Gordita Beach, where Doc Sportello himself probably caught a few gigs of The Corvairs with Shasta Fay at his side. Mucho Maas from The Crying of Lot 49 makes a cameo as well. I think that V. had a guy jumping through plate-glass window for kicks but I can't be sure. I can't be sure of anything anymore...
There is a lot in Vineland to admire. The plot is Pynchonesque, obviously, but never too hard to follow. There are dense slabs of prose that mine the craziness and contradictions of America and freedom and growing old and love and loss and dreams. There are puns and songs and movies and TV, and there is warmth and soul throughout. I'd recommend it.