We’ve said it before and we will say it again: Rick Moody is under-rated. We say that knowing that the Dale Pecks of the world think he is – or was – over-rated. We raise it because it seems, however you cut it, his star has fallen somewhat in recent years. For a time, he was very much in the ascendant – there was the auspicious debut (Garden State); the highly acclaimed novels (The Ice Storm and Purple America); the short story collections that drew parallels with the likes of David Foster Wallace (The Ring of Brightest Angels Around Heaven and Demonology); intriguing, personal nonfiction (The Black Veil). And then there was The Diviners (which we liked but which we are aware was a divisive novel), The Omega Force (also known as Right Livelihoods), which was the book least likely to have been read by Rick Moody fans according to a straw poll I’ve just conducted, The Four Fingers of Death (which wasn’t published in the UK) and Our Celestial Music (which collected his music writing). Now there isn’t a one of those books we’ve disliked. Not a one. But it has seemed for a while that he was on a downward trajectory – so the release of Hotels of North America, by Serpents Tail no less, is good news.
What we have here is a curious riff on a modern phenomena that recalls nothing so much as the more recent books by Sam Savage. This is best approached as the Rick Moody novel most likely to be loved by fans of Sam Savage (and if you don’t know Sam Savage and you read Hotels of North America and like it, you should read everything by Sam Savage). This is a collection of online hotel reviews, subtitled The Collected Writings of Reginald Edward Morse (Or RE Morse, if you are quick to spot things like that), bookended by an introduction by Greenway Davies, Director, North American Society of Hoteliers and Innkeepers, and with an afterward by the novelist Rick Moody. Greenway tells us this is but one of a series of books collecting various bits of hotel flotsam and jetsam, the idea being to scatter such effluvium about the hotel rooms in which people stay and have them see the said hotel (or said hotels) in a different light. Later, Rick shares with us the invite to provide some contextualising thoughts, his odd obsession with Morse, whoever Morse is. And then we have the reviews themselves, which are non-linear (in a sense) and feature Morse reminiscing about hotel stays (in a sense), that are then presented to us out of the order in which they were posted. If you are anything like me, you will spend the beginning of the book trying to slot each reminiscence into a schema (ah, you might think, this is before that one, but after that one…) – and then it is possible you’ll relax a little and just give yourself up to where the book takes you. That’s what we did.
In a sense (we keep saying that, it’s apposite), the title tells you what you get. These are hotel reviews. And the form allows Moody (or Morse, if you’re keen to keep the fiction alive) to riff on elements of a life spent staying in hotels (ranging from complementary cookies to “travel-sized hair-care products”). Moody is having fun here, or so it seems to this reader, and there is a fair amount of riffing: on marriage, on home, on sleep, on jokes that exist between a husband wife and serve to chart the course of a long marriage. Morse himself is not happily married, not any longer, and the fate of his marriage (gradually revealed) is due in no small part to his occasional philanderings. But there’s more to the book than this. There are spats with other online reviewers, plaudits and eventually a question as to the identity of Morse himself – in fact several questions, ranging from whether he is in fact a hotel employee himself rather than the motivational speaker he claims to be, to – eventually – whether he is even Reginald E Morse at all, “this man who receded from his own work like radiation from the blast site”, Moody comments, before going on to say:
“Morse is fragmentary, in that the pieces he wrote are themselves fragmentary, episodic, nonlinear, ending with new love simply because that is where he stopped.”
And that is a good way to approach the book. It is fragmentary, episodic and nonlinear. It would ably serve the reader who only picks up a book each night before bed, reading a handful of pages before sleep claims them. In fact, that oh so modern reader may be attracted to read more fiction as a result of a book like this. It’s gentle and, despite the slight tricksiness, not in the least bit difficult. It’s also a curiosity, of course, and it will be interesting to see where Moody goes next and where Hotels of North America fits in the larger scheme of things.
Any Cop?: A welcome return from Rick Moody and a good entry point for anyone looking to sample his wares.