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Rick Moody's novels and autobiographical writing had become difficult, aimed at a readership who have a great deal of persistence. Maybe there was some pleasure to be found in them, but it would take some digging. Read through Amazon reviews of his recent fiction and you will see many people using words like "verbose" and "boring." Those with education still stood by him, testifying to the quality of the writing and some readers liked his work. But he wasn't getting a lot of reviews. For example, The Four Fingers of Death, published in 2010, has 27 reviews on Amazon, with 3.5 stars.
So Hotels of North America is a welcome departure. It is quirky, funny, sexual, and emotional. There's a mystery too. The novel takes the form of a set of reviews of hotels, motels, and the occasional parking lot, for a website rateyourlodging.com. The reviews are not ostensibly by Moody, but rather by a reviewer named R.E. Morse. An afterword, ostensibly by Moody, called into the question the identity of this cleverly named reviewer. His reviews tell his readers much about his life and not much about the places he stayed. He reveals he used to work in finance but he is now a motivational speaker. He appears to travel a lot, and stays at many motels that are not very good. He gives many 2 star reviews. He is also disarmingly honest, or at least appears to be. He tells of some of the scams that he and his partner K pulled on motels, and of some of the disagreements he got into with proprietors.
His reviews are more meditations on his life, his romantic experiences, his ex-wife, or the people in the neighboring rooms. He comes across as a melancholy and fastidious man, often a little angry and ready to get into a dispute. The online world suits him well since he can reply to criticisms of his reviews by commenters, which he often does. These are clever and thoughtful pieces, and although we might not want Reginald Morse as a friend, it is easy to see why he would be one of RateYourLodging's top reviewers. There are moments of tenderness and self-revelation here that would be wonderful to see in real online reviews. It's an impressive feat to give a glimpse of someone's life through this. Of course, all the way through, the reader is very aware that this is a literary device, and that it is Moody's creation. This is more so than one would get from a novel told from the point of view of a narrator, especially since the very identity of Reginald Morse is in question, even in Moody's own fictional world.
Even though this is a far more readable work than some of Moody's other recent writings, it's still one that works at many different levels and sets itself aside from the usual set of narratives. It helps readers to think about the creation of an online identity. The performance by Jefferson Mays is strong--he has a slightly prim tone, but he conveys plenty of emotional range.
© 2016 Christian Perring
Christian Perring, Professor of Philosophy, Dowling College, New York
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