Almost nobody follows literary feuds these days, but those who do still remember Dale Peck's declaration three years ago in the "New Republic" that Rick...
by Rick Moody
Little, Brown, 567 pp., $25.95
Almost nobody follows literary feuds these days, but those who do still remember Dale Peck’s declaration three years ago in the “New Republic” that Rick Moody “is the worst writer of his generation.”
Peck is a garden-variety novelist and critic who doesn’t have the heft to seriously tag anyone — let alone a real writer like Moody — as the worst writer of his generation.
After reading “The Diviners,” though, I revisited Peck’s “New Republic” review of Moody’s memoir, “The Black Veil.” This time I ignored Peck’s weirdly bitter and personal slant and noticed some accurate criticism. Yes, Moody is often redundant; yes, Moody’s sentences are sometimes pointless; yes, Moody is willing to sacrifice truth and precision for style points.
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The author of “The Diviners” will read at 7 p.m. tomorrow at Seattle Repertory Theater, 115 Mercer St., Seattle; free (co-sponsored by the Rep and University Book Store, 206-634-3400 or www.ubookstore.com).
Furthermore, Peck predicted, as a putdown, that Moody would follow “The Black Veil” with “a sprawling ‘social novel’ in the manner of ‘The Corrections.’ “
Well, yes, and here it is.
Vanessa Meandro, “the Minivan,” the fat and mean head of production for an independent film company in New York, sets out to make a 13-part miniseries about water dowsers, aka diviners. The joke is that there is no script. Numerous plotlines emerge from concept, more than I can list here, but not enough to keep things moving.
“Annabel Duffy calls her boss Minivan because her boss is that large.” The reader no doubt can fill in just how large, but Moody does it for us in the very next sentence. “The size of a minivan.” This sort of repetition is how Moody turns 250 pages of story into 512 pages of narrative.
“The Black Veil,” though not nearly as awful as Peck argued, does read like a parody of the memoir form — rich kid Hiram Fredrick Moody III abuses alcohol and drugs and gets depressed and has white guilt, which he thinks is socially significant rather than merely indulgent.
With “The Diviners” Moody appears to be unintentionally parodying epics.
“He likes the title, ‘The Diviners,’ and he likes the fact that the treatment calls for not one but three separate films. Three films, to be filmed all at once, in locations across the globe, and thus with sequels built in. A franchise. A branding opportunity. He likes it. He likes the ambition of the franchise. He likes that there are dozens of protagonists. He likes that every single race, religion, and ethnicity he can think of is in the project.”
These are the thoughts of an agent who stumbles upon the script treatment, but could be the thoughts of Moody as he types up this ambitious Hollywood novel that takes place everywhere except Hollywood.
Though Moody doesn’t really get Hollywood — very few novelists do — he does understand actors and the folks on the fringe of the movie business who live in Manhattan. He can, when he chooses, bring a character to life with one or two sentences.
“Vic has tried to go to the movies at the little art houses, after work, but he hates independent film. He thinks independent people smoke too much pot.” Unfortunately, Moody rarely stops when the job is done. He is smart and can write virtuosic sentences and apparently feels the need to prove this over and over.
One of the most hilarious chapters targets “Randall Tork, the greatest wine writer in history,” an obvious effigy of Peck. For 21 pages, Moody rants about Tork. His dissection of Peck and like-minded critics is brilliant — Moody gets the best of this feud — but the brilliance is tempered by the gratuitousness.
There are moments in “The Diviners” where Moody shows the control and focus that was so impressive in his second novel, “The Ice Storm,” but too few. Though Moody is sober these days, “The Diviners” feels like it was written on a bender.