Comparing Gravity's Rainbow and Vineland
From the author of Gravity's Rainbow (1973), the famous apocalyptic novel of World War II, comes Vineland (1990), a trip into the California of 1984: a Reagan-era wasteland of yuppies, malls, food-preservatives and, above all, the Tube: the Cathode-Ray Tube. The opening line of Gravity's Rainbow, "A screaming comes across the sky," which describes a V-2 rocket on its lethal mission, finds a way into Pynchon's latest work, albeit transformed: "Desmond was out on the porch, hanging around his dish, which was always empty because of the blue jays who came screaming down out of the redwoods and carried off the food in it piece by piece."
One passage describes war. Another tells of birds stealing dog food. The change in scope is huge, but misleading. Some readers may scoff at first at Pynchon's subject matter-hippie holdovers running from narcs-but there is no mistaking Vineland's connection to Gravity's Rainbow. The newer work acts as a corollary to the older one.
The book begins with Zoyd Wheeler waking up one summer morning with some Froot Loops with Nestle's Quick on top. He lives in Vineland County, a foggy, fictional expanse of Northern California which makes a great refuge for wilting flower children. Zoyd is one of them-a part-time keyboard player, handyman and marijuana cultivator who acts publicly crazy (he jumps through glass windows once a year on television) to qualify for mental disability benefits. He and his teenage daughter Prairie both mourn the disappearance of Frenesi Gates, who was mother to one and wife to the other. Frenesi was a radical filmmaker during the 60's until she was seduced by Brock Vond, a federal prosecutor and overall bad-guy/nutcase who turns her from hippie radical to FBI informant. With her help he manages to destroy the People's Republic of Rock and Roll.
Fast-forward two decades. Frenesi is about to be kicked out of the Witness Protection Program because the government is tired of subsidizing her. Zoyd wants to find her, for obvious reasons. Vond, still the charismatic little psychopath, wants Frenesi back too, and decides to kidnap Prairie to get her. Prairie, the only sane and sober person in the book, also wants to meet Frenesi, the mother she never knew.
But there's more, like in any Pynchon novel: Vond is apparently the ultimate law-enforcement spoilsport and he's not done hounding guys like Zoyd.