It is 17 years since Pynchon’s last novel, Gravity’s Rainbow, a work of dizzying opulence and grandeur, so there is cause for a little contained excitement. The setting is Northern California in 1984, a landscape of shopping malls and Burger Kings, designer cocktails and crank astrologists, a lawn-care service called The Marquis de Sod (‘’E’ll wheep your lawn into shepp!’) and the Bodhi Dharma Pizza Temple where they serve an organic ‘stone-ground twelve-grain crust with the lightness and digestibility of a manhole cover.’ Old hippy and dopehead Zoyd Wheeler lives happily among the Vineland redwoods with teenage daughter Prairie, his chief worry the suitability of her boyfriend Isaiah Two Four, the violence-obsessed drummer in Billy Barf and the Vomitones. Zoyd is just going about his annual business of donning women’s clothes and leaping through a plate-glass window for the benefit of assembled TV crews, thus ensuring the continuation of his welfare cheques from the mental health authorities, when ominous figures from his past heave into view.
First comes Hector Zuniga, an FBI narcotics agent who turns out to be on the run from NEVER, the National Endowment for Video Education and Rehabilitation. Hector is a Tubefreek, meaning he’s afflicted with a condition which we in Britain attempt to cure by displaying sufferers on Noel Edmonds’s show