A serious-minded novelist offers a sprawling satire of show business, with results that fall short of divine.
For his first novel in eight years, Moody (Purple America, 1997) has written what might charitably be described as an epic Tom Wolfe parody, or a New York spin on the Hollywood of Bruce Wagner’s novels. Having squandered some critical capital with an uneven collection of short fiction (Demonology, 2000)and a literarily indulgent memoir (The Black Veil, 2002), Moody returns with an ambitious audacity, taking his fiction beyond the drug-addled, angst-ridden grandchildren of Cheever Country that his readers have come to expect. The novel concerns the buzz building around a project titled “The Diviners,” a multi-national, multi-generational miniseries about the age-old practice of searching for water by dowsing. Yet “The Diviners” upon which the plot pivots is itself a cultural mirage, generated from a script that does not exist, based on a novel that does not exist. Its development from nothing into (perhaps) something finds Moody detailing the inner workings of a New York production company known for indie films, as it schemes to break into the more lucrative television mainstream. As the novel attempts a sweeping and scathing indictment of contemporary culture, the narrative envelopes eco-terrorism, embezzlement, mental illness, religious hypocrisy, a variety of sexual peccadilloes, the hanging chads of a contested presidential election, the domination of multi-media conglomerates, the packaging of a Britney-styled pop tart and, at the thematic center, the insidiously addictive properties of Krispy Kremes. The novel develops few of its many characters beyond caricature, and most of its chapters are comic set pieces that minimally push the plot along. It all adds up (or doesn’t) to a bloated book about cultural bloat, an empty look at cultural emptiness.
A novel that might well have been more fun to write than it is to read.