Reads from his latest book this Saturday at 4 p.m. at The Chapel Restoration
By Joe Dizney
In the latest installment of the Sunset Reading Series, acclaimed American author Rick Moody will read from his new novel, Hotels of North America.
Ostensibly the collected writings of one Reginald Edward (R.E.) Morse, hapless motivational speaker, top blogger and reviewer for RateYourLodging.com, this epistolary collection is the latest meta-fiction from Moody, whose ambitious output has been respected if not always praised by his critics and peers.
Early novels Garden State, The Ice Storm and Purple America garnered comparisons to John Cheever for their dystopian suburban-exurban social commentary as well as their powerful language, depth and intellect.
Subsequent short story collections (The Ring of Brightest Angels Around Heaven and Demonology), and later novellas (Right Livelihoods) firmly established Moody’s membership in the post-modern literary cohort of contemporaries Dave Eggers, Jeffrey Eugenides, “The Jonathans” (Franzen and Lethem), Richard Powers, and the late David Foster Wallace.
But this searching precociousness has been heatedly divisive: he was infamously strafed as “the worst writer of his generation” for his 2002 “memoir with digressions,” The Black Veil, while concurrently being praised by the granddaddy of post-modernists, Thomas Pynchon, who proclaimed that the book “takes the art of the memoir an important step into its future.”
Subsequent novels The Diviners (2005) and The Four Fingers of Death (2012) did nothing to quell the dispute, displaying an unabashed conceptual, structural and linguistic playfulness—and a newfound humor and compassionate humanity — which could be found entertaining, heartening or frustrating, but never boring.
Hotels of North America sticks to that roadmap, chasing digital nomad Reg Morse as he tries to distance himself from a failed marriage while chasing the mysterious K., the object of his desire, always just out of reach.
Framed by a preface from “Greenway Davies, Director, North American Society of Hoteliers and Innkeepers” (who insisted on the publishing sobriquet “a novel”) and a sensitive and searching afterword by a writer named “Rick Moody.” It has already been hailed as “his best novel in years” by The New York Times.
On Nov. 6, I caught up with one or another Rick Moody:
JD: How are you?
RM: I’m good: I read last night. It was sort of like the maiden voyage. I read at the NYU writing program. I teach there so it was sort of a “friendly fire” crowd.
JD: So, are you happy with the book?
RM: Yeah, I feel good about it. It’s been a strange journey. I started a different book in 2009, wrote about 250 pages and was just hating it … I started this one to get away from the other one.
JD: I must confess that I’ve only fully read the preface, reviews of two hotels — the DuPont Embassy Row (Washington D.C. HH); The Viking (Eugene, Oregon **) — one (anomalous) bed-and-breakfast, The Guest of Honor (Lakeville, Connecticut ****) and the afterword.
RM: I like that you’re reading it out of order: It’s an area of conviction for me that books are more interesting if your passage through them is not rigidly controlled.
JD: It seems like this book is built for it — it has so much to say about “customization,” travel guides, blogging…
RM: Yeah. I want it to kind of spill out of its “container.” The finished book has endpapers that are timelines of all the hotels that Reg stayed in, the copyright page is part of it. I have this rateyourlodging.com website that I’ve made and I’ve been soliciting hotel reviews from other people so now we’ve got like all these crazy hotel reviews on it now.
JD: I love the fact that the “Rick Moody” of the afterword, in his search for the real R.E. Morse, stays at some of the same hotels, like the terrifying Presidents’ City Inn (Quincy, Massachusetts **). Were most these real places?
RM: Well, that one’s closed now, I found out since I wrote the book. It was so horrible it closed. A lot of them were amalgamations of various places. There was this situation where Laurel, my wife [photographer Laurel Nakadate], was taking pictures all across the country and I went on a bunch of the shoots, so we really were staying in a lot of hotels. We were on kind of opposite sleeping schedules, so I would get up at five o’clock and bang out a review of the hotel and I would make Reg’s chapter out of that material later on.
JD: This book also seems to be a bit more character-driven, yes?
RM: This is the first book I started with character instead of social milieu, and maybe that’s the case because the social milieu is one of social isolation. Ice Storm was about the ’70s, Fairfield County, Watergate and the last convulsions of the sexual revolution, and I imagined the characters by fitting people into the matrix of that social commentary.
This time, I had this guy, and I knew he was a reviewer. I started by finding his voice, and not worrying about where he was, ’cause where he was is in dispute … the only place he is reliably is in a digital storage facility.
Also, the thing that I want to say about the book, to make sure when history is done with this I know that I articulated what I feel is important. It has a comic aspect, and then there’s the sort of aspect of talking about the internet and internet culture, but a lot of the book is about this guy — going through a divorce and estranged from his child — it has an aspect that is about pathos and not just formalism or social critique.
JD: One small criticism: The title is Hotels of North America, and the second review is for an Italian hotel TownHouse Street, (Milano Italy **, followed by the Groucho Club (London, ***). Comment?
RM: You know, I have to do an interview with Canadian radio later today and I do not have a Canadian hotel. I pretty sure I’m going to take some sh-t from the Canadian pride sector.
Rick Moody reads from Hotels of North America, this Saturday (note the change in day from the Sunset Series’ usual Sunday), Nov. 14, at 4 p.m., at The Chapel Restoration, 45 Market St., Cold Spring. Sunset Reading series admission is free but donations are welcomed. A wine and cheese reception follows the reading. Free parking is available at the adjacent Metro-North parking lot.