In the Desert, Prime Time

Rick Moody
Rick Moody; drawing by David Levine

Before it raptures up and wimps out, Moody’s most recent novel, The Diviners, is not only longer and funnier than his previous three but also more accommodating. While he may still rev his motor too much, he is thinking out loud about larger matters than the substance abuse, sexual dysfunction, and sudden death in the northeast suburbs that preoccupied Garden State, The Ice Storm, and Purple America. In developing a Marx Brothers meet Thomas Pynchon plot about a frantic search, in the weeks immediately following the dead-heat presidential election of November 2000, for a much-hyped but mysteriously missing television script on dowsing through the ages, he explores the American thirst for something, anything, to believe in, our national hunger for the latest trumped-up or knocked-off meanings.

Such an exploration, itself unscrolling like a screenplay from “Opening Credits and Theme Music” on page 3 to “Epilogue and Scenes from Upcoming Episodes” on page 549, lets Moody spend satiric time in dream factories that pander to such base faith needs both in “the conspiratorial enterprise of Manhattan” and on the left coast where pop culture’s psychic yardgoods are tie-dyed and haberdashed (“the light that illuminates the world begins in Los Angeles”). Besides elaborating an entirely imaginary history of water-seeking dowsers who make magic like a bunch of druids, and then, as if to trump himself, inventing yet another TV show—about werewolves in Fairfield County, Connecticut—that everybody in The Diviners is said to watch compulsively, he allows himself to care about, even as he ridicules, a half-dozen complicated female characters, a bipolar bicycle messenger, a priapic action-adventure movie star, a network vice-president with multimedia conglomerate problems, and a New England minister who has begun to have his doubts about God. And there is time left over to mourn the November 2000 abduction of the American presidency by bullyboys, dangling chads, and party-hack Supreme Court justices while simultaneously apostrophizing deep-fried sugar with a hole in it:

The great spiritual benefit of the Krispy Kreme original glazed doughnut is the sensation of nothingness. The satori that is Krispy Kreme is the obliteration of self, the silencing of the voices that are attached to the oppressions of life.

Like a lot of The Diviners this is both funny and true, as anyone knows who’s ever stopped for a piping-fresh Krispy Kreme when the red light’s on outside the store, or who has zapped a cold one for eight seconds in the microwave. Later in the novel, when a lobotomized band of low-rent urban guerrillas firebombs a Krispy Kreme franchise to protest global capitalism, it’s almost as if Moody intended to do for doughnuts what John Irving did for apples in The Cider House Rules and Milan Kundera for bowler hats in The Unbearable Lightness of Being. But somehow the symbolic holes in the doughnuts never connect with the symbolic sticks of the dowsers and the symbolic…

This is exclusive content for subscribers only.
Get unlimited access to The New York Review for just $1 an issue!

View Offer

Continue reading this article, and thousands more from our archive, for the low introductory rate of just $1 an issue. Choose a Print, Digital, or All Access subscription.

If you are already a subscriber, please be sure you are logged in to your account.