cover image Vineland Reread

Vineland Reread

Peter Coviello. Columbia Univ., $20 (208p) ISBN 978-0-231-18521-9

In this penetrating and nuanced work of literary criticism, University of Illinois professor Coviello (All Tomorrow’s Parties) makes a spirited argument for the relevance of Thomas Pynchon’s 1990 novel Vineland. Coviello acknowledges that Vineland is typically seen as one of Pynchon’s lesser works, but argues that, in addition to its humor and anarchic invention, the novel is historically and politically significant. As it happens, his contention that Vineland predicts an American future where the state conducts “ceaseless carceral counterinsurgency” rings especially true in the present moment. He suggests the novel posits the 1960s as the end of the possibility for genuine social and cultural upheaval, which has since been crushed by “an ever-expanding system of penal confinement” with “a fully military-grade readiness of response.” He quotes from the novel at length, particularly reveling in its dialogue, which he admires for its “reverence for the richness and splendid variety of ordinary American speech.” Coviello’s own language can be abstruse (with phrases like “the governing epistemologies of our quotidian semiconsensual Real”), but these moments are few. Whether readers are convinced by the end that this particular Pynchon novel is one of the author’s finest, Coviello’s astute and passionate analysis is a pleasure to read on its own terms. (Jan.)