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Hotels of North America


Hotels of North America

Rick Moody is the sort of writer who will say in 600 words what another could say in 60 and still manage to make a reader feel okay about it. This is, after all, the author of “Boys,” a short story in which nearly every looping sentence begins with four words: “Boys enter the house.” He revels not only in his own maximalism but in the idea of maximalism itself. At least I hope he does, because frankly I wonder occasionally if Moody --- the name is very appropriate here --- revels in anything at all.

Sure, there’s irony. What writer in the postmodernist tradition worth any salt at all can’t find a way to slip a few little ironic quips in now and then? But humor? Take the protagonist of HOTELS OF NORTH AMERICA, Moody’s latest. The reader is told, in a winking preface, that the author of the middle-sized collection of online hotel reviews she holds in her hands is none other than Reginald Edward Morse --- a reviewer who spends far more words on detailing his sexual failures and deeply held regrets than he does on actually reviewing any establishment he stays in. That name, though: R.E. Morse! Like a joke plucked from the back of an issue of Boys’ Life, it evokes about an eighth of a chuckle that dies in the throat and comes out a derisive snort.

"Moody’s observations, like a poet’s, are keen. If only, like a poet, he knew when to stop."

Morse himself is, of course, an utter drag. Like many of Moody’s characters, he’s an aging white man with a Victorian vocabulary, his life withering slowly toward purposelessness and the inevitability of death. He writes often of the seminal fluids and crushed bugs he finds ground into hotel carpets, and even more often of his misadventures in love and sex. The latter he obsesses over, and prostates are mentioned more than enough. The deliberate floridity of the language is possibly this novel’s greatest nod at humor. As Alexander Chee put it in his review for the New Republic, “ seems to me that Moody’s fear of death and fear of being a middle-aged white man --- in particular, a sexually unattractive middle-aged white man --- made him into the kind of guy who will say ‘alarum’ instead of alarm, which is to me its own sort of alarm.”

But frankly, the New Republic has panned Moody brutally and frequently enough in his career that it’s almost not worth dwelling on this point. In his famously soul-crushing excoriation of Moody’s memoir, THE BLACK VEIL, one of the many faults critic and novelist Dale Peck finds in Moody is his way of conceptualizing his sentence structure. “Moody has described his style as ‘a more natural albeit slightly more hysterical kind of line length,’ Peck writes. “Line length,’ of course, refers to poetry, not prose, but the imprecision is typical of Moody's half-thought-out rhetoric.” Except what if this is exactly what Moody intends?

Leaving aside the absurdity of the idea that authorial intent is the alpha and omega of a work’s worth, what I find most interesting is the possibility of Moody thinking of himself as a poet’s novelist. Whether he succeeds is almost irrelevant --- in an era when almost all poetry but hip hop is buried deep under the remainder of the publishing industry’s yearly output, Moody’s self-consciously poetic mein may be of worth in itself. Chee calls Moody “the list poet as novelist, taking the known world and disassembling it like a child trying to understand how a clock works.” It’s apt.

“In the lurch of solitude,” Morse (and Moody) writes, “I began trying to add to the list of things not to say to someone in your marriage: Don’t ever use a pen while lying on the bed; don’t ever forget to put the cap back on a pen after using the pen; don’t ever use a pen if it’s new….” And the list goes on, with a beautiful specificity. Moody’s observations, like a poet’s, are keen. If only, like a poet, he knew when to stop.

Reviewed by John Maher on January 8, 2016

Hotels of North America
by Rick Moody

  • Publication Date: November 15, 2016
  • Genres: Fiction
  • Paperback: 208 pages
  • Publisher: Back Bay Books
  • ISBN-10: 031617856X
  • ISBN-13: 9780316178563