Thomas Pynchon's South Bay Years

Pynchon's South Bay by Paul Penzella

Anyone who’s been to Manhattan Beach anytime in the last 20 years or so will likely find little in common with Gordita Beach — the fictional locale of Thomas Pynchon’s universe, thought to be based on the beachfront community south of Los Angeles — but the few landmarks that remain are helpfully pointed out in these two pieces below.

Gordita Beach is the setting of Pynchon’s new stoner-noir, Inherent Vice, and also makes a brief appearance in Vineland, his 1990 novel set amidst the schizophrenics, hippies and rednecks of the Northern California redwoods. Though his whereabouts have usually been unknown over the course of his career, the famously reclusive writer lived in Manhattan Beach in 1969-70 while he was writing Gravity’s Rainbow, and in keeping with his near invisibility beyond the bookshelf, there’s little trace left of his presence, or the enclave of “paranoid dope-smokers, surfers and ‘stewardii'” of Inherent Vice.

The Daily Breeze did a compare and contrast piece on modern-day Manhattan and Gordita Beaches in its August 8, 2009 edition: Surprise! Most of the good bookstores are gone, it’s all overrun with horrible lawyers, the landmarks have been plastered over with Oliver Garden-inspired facades and hardly anybody remembers that one of the most significant literary works of the late 20th Century was written there:

But around the South Bay, the response has been more muted. Over the past few years the beach cities have lost their best independent bookstores – such as Either/Or Bookstore in Hermosa Beach, where Pynchon was alleged to be a customer – and Manhattan Beach has been slow to claim Pynchon as a local author.

“Manhattan Beach has a way of shoveling under that kind of countercultural history,” said Frost, whose extensive report on Pynchon’s local ties can be found at http://www.tinyurl.com/macb29. “He occupied a time in history that doesn’t get recorded very well in the South Bay.”

You can read the Breeze piece by clicking here or keep scrolling down to the bottom of our post.

For a more in-depth look at Pynchon’s South Bay years, we’ll refer you to the Garrison Frost history that The Breeze is talking about, originally published in 1999 in his journal of South Bay ephemera, The Aesthetic. Several amusing tidbits:

First and foremost, though, Pynchon was a writer, according to Hall. He was known to lock himself up in his apartment for days and weeks at a time while writing “Gravity’s Rainbow,” often going so far as to block out the windows with towels.

Guy recalled that, while doing research for the book, Pynchon translated an entire book of Russian history using only an English/Russian dictionary.

Perhaps the most interesting tale that Hall has regarding Pynchon is of their last meeting. It was around 1975 and he hadn’t seen the author since the two chatted at the counter at El Tarasco a couple of years earlier. By chance, Hall found himself back in Manhattan Beach and met Pynchon on the sidewalk near the Fractured Cow.

“I was walking down the street and he was walking toward me,” Hall said. “Our paths crossed right in front of a pay phone, our eyes met and we recognized each other. I asked how he was and at that moment the telephone rang. He looked at me and looked at the phone, then turned around and ran down the street, and I never saw him again.”

Click here to keep reading “Thomas Pynchon and the South Bay” at The Aesthetic’s website. And if you haven’t gotten a copy of Inherent Vice yet, Amazon’s currently offering a free download of the first chapter as PDF.

Read “Fictionalized Manhattan Beach comes to life in Pynchon novel” from The Daily Breeze after the jump …

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