The Gist: ‘The Diviners’

Wait—Rick Moody … Isn’t he that writer Dale Peck hates?
Yes. In a notorious review of Moody’s last book, The Black Veil, Peck called him “the worst writer of his generation.” But before that literary feud, Moody was best known for tales of dysfunctional families, like The Ice Storm.

So what’s The Diviners about? More dysfunctional families?
Only metaphorically. It’s a satire of the entertainment business set largely in New York, at an indie-film company run by a female Weinsteinian producer. She and her minions are battling to create a vast mini-series that culminates in the founding of Las Vegas. Problem is, the project is based on a script that doesn’t exist.

Okay, so it’s an industry spoof.
It is satire, but more in the tradition of Pynchon than The Devil Wears Prada—an ambitious, cerebral montage of American society circa the Bush v. Gore showdown of 2000.

All this after Peck attacked him for pompous postmodern antics?
Yes, and it’s bound to be read as a 567-page act of defiance. Moody ostentatiously channels the culture in myriad stylistic riffs.

A bad actor describes an obscene sex act in the language of yoga, a nasty suburban tiff is narrated in academic jargon, a Sikh cabdriver turned entertainment guru blends management-speak with philosophical musings. There’s even a blacked-out page of text, à la Jonathan Safran Foer.

What’s the juiciest bit?
Moody describes a wine critic named Randall Tork with a penchant for vulgar put-downs and disgusting metaphors—a Dale Peck doppelgänger.

Is this his big comeback?
Possibly. But if Moody was already a polarizing writer, this time he’s leaving readers even further divided. The Washington Post and the L.A. Times loved it. But the Toronto Star compared it to a glittery but structurally unsound McMansion. Entertainment Weekly gave it a C.

So, should I read it?
Not if intense character development and dramatic coherence are important to you. His players too often serve as improbable mouthpieces for one or another truism of pop-postmodernism.

Is that a “no”?
Well, Moody does preserve some of the stinging realism that made earlier works like The Ice Storm so powerful. Many of the riffs are hilarious, and the plot itself, minus the hard-to-swallow theatrics, barrels along irresistibly toward a near-perfect ending. From a more understated writer, it would have made for a beautiful epiphany.

What does Dale Peck think?
So far, he hasn’t written a word.

Rick Moody’s The Diviners
Little, Brown

The Gist: ‘The Diviners’