Sunday, September 13, 2009


I’ve been reading Thomas Pynchon’s latest novel “Inherent Vice.” As mentioned in an earlier post, Pynchon has a fine eye, nose and vocabulary, for bad food.

Doc Sportello, the novel’s private eye hero, and his lawyer Sauncho Smilax, go to a fish restaurant called the Belaying Pin. The waitress, name of Chlorinda, asks what’ll it be.

“Ordinarily I’d go for the Admiral’s Luau,” Sauncho more diffident than Doc expected, “but today I guess I’ll just have the house anchovy loaf to start and, um, the devil-ray filet, can I get that deep-fried in beer batter?’

Doc orders the jellyfish teriyaki croquettes followed by eel Trovatore.

The waitress recommends they drink Tequila Zombies. “You’ll want to be good and fucked up by the time this arrives.”

One of the many lazy things reviewers have said about the book is that it’s “Chandleresque,” which suggests to me they haven’t read either Chandler OR Inherent Vice very closely.

I went back to The Long Goodbye in search of the passage where a melancholy Philip Marlowe goes to Lawry’s because he has a craving for roast beef and Yorkshire pudding. Now the fact is I go to Lawry’s once in a while and they do serve not bad Yorkshire pudding, but as I look around the restaurant I never see anybody except me eating it. In the picture below it's that odd thing on the lefthand side, and I gotta say it doesn't look all that appetising.

It doesn’t surprise me that few Angelenos go for the Yorkshire pudding: it seems the least L.A. of all foods. I know Philip Marlowe was no ordinary detective, but somehow it feels like Chandler’s anglophile tastes showing through rather than Marlowe’s.

I also found this passage in the Long Goodbye about American sandwiches:

”I went down to the drugstore and ate a chicken salad sandwich and drank some coffee … the sandwich was as full of rich flavor as a piece torn off an old shirt. Americans will eat anything if it is toasted and held together with a couple of toothpicks and has lettuce sticking out the side, preferably a little wilted.”

I’d say that last sentence was just a little overcooked. He might have stopped after the toothpicks: but I’m not going to argue with the great Raymond.

Incidentally, in Inherent Vice, Pynchon can't resist a bit of further food-related mirth - an English rock band called Spotted Dick. Why is it that Americans find spotted dick so hilarious, yet can take noir novels about private dicks effortlessly in their stride? That's a rhetorical question, incidentally.

1 comment:

  1. From the time I learned to read, I've always had a craving for whatever the characters were eating and drinking. Remember when Sportello orders a Shoot the Pier?

    "‘. . . basically advocados, sprouts, jalapeños, pickled artichoke hearts, Monterey jack cheese, and Green Goddess dressing on a sourdough loaf that had first been sliced lengthwise, spread with garlic butter, and toasted, seventy-nine cents and a bargain at half the price’ - page 261.

    I made one and it was quite strange, but satisfying -- though it cost me considerably more than 79¢.