The Washington Post
Right Livelihoods: Three Novellasby Rick Moody
RIGHT LIVELIHOODS begins with a cataclysmic vision of New York City after the leveling of 50 square blocks of Manhattan. Four million have died. Albertine, the "street name for the buzz of a lifetime," is a mind-altering drug that sets The Albertine Notes in motion. The collection's second novella, K&K, concerns a lonely young office manager at an insurance agency, where the office suggestion box is yielding unpleasant messages that escalate to a scary pitch. Ellie Knight-Cameron's responses to these random diatribes illuminate the toll that a lack of self-awareness can take. At the center of The Omega Force is a buffoonish former government official in rocky recovery. Dr. "Jamie" Van Deusen is determined to protect his habitat--its golf courses (and Bloody Marys), pizza places (and beers) from "dark-complected" foreign nationals. His patriotism and wild imagination are mainly fueled by a fall off the wagon. Only Rick Moody could lead us to feel affection for this man and the other misguided, earnestly striving characters in these alternately unsettling, warm, trio of stories.
The Washington Post
Heavily influenced by post-9/11 paranoia, Moody's mostly successful trio of novellas pits its wayward characters against conspiracies sometimes entirely imagined. Dr. James Van Deusen, the loquacious, alcoholic, patently unreliable narrator of "The Omega Force," relies on his background in a "cabinet-level agency" and a mass market thriller to unravel a murky plot that, in his hobbled head, involves locals and a group of "dark-complected" individuals targeting the Plum Island Animal Disease Center. "K&K," the weakest of the three, takes the hidden tensions of a small insurance brokerage's office to an absurd level as office manager Ellie Knight-Cameron investigates a string of bizarre anonymous suggestions left in the office's suggestion box. Ellie's obsession isn't quite believable, and the novella ends abruptly, as if Moody gave up on it. "The Albertine Notes," the strongest piece in the book, describes a future New York after a dirty bomb destroys much of Manhattan. Kevin Lee fills his reporter's notebook for a story about the new drug of choice, Albertine, which transports users into their most pleasurable memories. Kevin succumbs to Albertine as well, and the layering of hallucination and reality that follows demonstrates why Moody has a reputation as a deft stylist. Two out of three ain't bad. (June)Copyright 2007 Reed Business Information
Moody's writing reflects a penchant for contemporary American issues; in The Ice Storm, for instance, the precarious political climate after the Watergate scandal influences the behavior of the novel's characters. It should come as no surprise, then, that the novellas collected here allude to post-9/11 life in America. In "The Omega Force," a tale rife with satirical meaning, the patriotic doctor defending the security of his domain against people who are "dark-complected" turns out to be a lunatic. Paranoia is also evident in "K&K" as an office manager finds some dissident messages in the company's suggestion box and suspects a conspiracy. The third, "The Albertine Notes," introduces an amateur journalist who, while researching the drug issue for a porno magazine, falls victim to drug culture and suffers from hallucinations that New York City is being obliterated. The unreliable and eccentric characters that so often populate Moody's novels again effectively remind us of the nation's collective hysteria. His convoluted narrative may challenge the patience of some readers, but those who persist will find it rewarding. Recommended for large public libraries and academic libraries. [See Prepub Alert, LJ2/15/07.]
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By Rick Moody
Little, Brown and CompanyCopyright © 2007 Rick Moody
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Chapter OneThe Omega Force
1. The Current National Security Environment
I came to on the loggia-the only question was whose loggia? There was the Cavanaghs' loggia, designed by that famous and locally celebrated architect whom I once met. The name is gone. The Cavanaghs' loggia faced the backyard, and they had a splendid garden with unusual varieties of rosebushes. No, this was not the Cavanaghs' loggia. Was it the Hilliards' loggia? I saw theirs when I attended one of the Hilliard cocktail extravaganzas. A hot ticket in these parts. I felt a sublimity at the view of the distant water, the rocky coast, the Hilliards' tulips, ably tended by their one-armed caretaker. No, it wasn't the Cavanaghs' loggia, it wasn't the Hilliards' loggia, and it wasn't the Pritchards' loggia, where my wife once got into a contretemps with the owners of the demesne. Helen (who prefers that I not use her real name in this account) grew red in the face in repelling some uncharitable remark by Sydney Pritchard. We strode proudly toward our sports coupe, parked in the gravel turnaround.
I suppose it is possible that I have not visited all the loggias in our municipality, and that adventure was my only purpose in coming to this address, since I had no other purpose that I could recall. Maybe I was keen to see the loggia in question, and that was why I had slept the night through here on the porch furniture of these obliging folks, some rather lovely sturdy stuff painted white and leavened with lime green cushions. However, it's true that in the first light I did not feel particularly well. It must have been a bug of some kind.
The sun rising in the east served as my alarm. As I am fond of saying, I keep the hours of a small child, going to bed before prime- time programming, waking with the light, a light that naturally prompts a fresh bout of reminiscences about the evening previous and its bonhomie. This time of year, early autumn, most of our summer residents have gone home to their suburbs to attend to their law firms or their little boutique money management firms or perhaps to their commercial real estate businesses. The owners of this particular loggia (and the house attached) were therefore not in evidence. Yet their porch furniture remained.
My lips and cheek were swollen from a multitude of mosquitoes that had taken advantage of overnight access. We have twenty varieties of mosquito on our little island, and I think I must have fed every one. Of course, I was wearing my favorite rust-colored poplin shorts and some knee-high socks that went strikingly well with my Docksiders. I also wore the pink polo shirt that my wife says distracts from the blotchy skin problems that beset those of us in the Social Security set. My hair, I'm sure, was badly disarranged. I could barely close my left eye. I hate to disappoint my neighbors and friends by not being turned out in a way that says just who I am: a jaunty former employee of the public sector.
Here's a charming detail. There was a paperback lying beside the chaise longue on which I'd apparently spent the night, a mystery novel of some kind entitled Omega Force: Code White, by one Stuart Hawkes-Mitchell. What a baronial nom de plume! The paperback was well thumbed, and no doubt the owners of the house were the consumers of the paperback. Perhaps they had spent some of the dog days just past flipping through the pages of Hawkes-Mitchell's thriller. I decided I should at least have a look, as it was another forty-five minutes or so until I could (a) ask to borrow the commode inside, or (b) make my way along the beach and back toward my own home.
The cover of Omega Force: Code White pictured a strapping young man leaping from an amphibious landing vehicle while brandishing a rather alarming handgun, probably a nine millimeter or some such. He was grimacing, this young man, wearing an expression that is to be found in all on-field photographs of football coaches. You'd think football coaches had only two expressions: grimacing and shouting. In the distance of the embossed pictorial image that adorned Omega Force: Code White, there was a young woman with an ample bosom. It has not escaped my notice that a paperback cover must always feature an ample bosom. It should go without saying that I prefer antique stories where remarkable people solve crimes and restore law and order using old-fashioned know-how and deductive reasoning. However, I am not one to turn aside a bosom, should it present itself.
Consider the testimonial information on the cover of the paperback. It promised "mind-twisting suspense." I wasn't sure, in my mildly nauseated and headachy condition, that I wanted to be thus contorted. Further, this was the sort of book that would "keep you on the edge of your beach chair." "From alpha to omega, you won't be able to put it down." "The newest episode of Omega Force promises and delivers." Who could resist? I was just about to read past the endorsements from the Orange County Register and the Times-Picayune when I heard a fateful rustling behind me.
It was a French door, and there were drapes on the far side of this threshold (that is, in the interior), some kind of beige drapery, perhaps a linen, a summery weave, suitable for cottage life. And now there was a face in it, a woman's. I caught a glimpse of her at the moment in which she discerned that I was here, reclining on the loggia, facing the beach plums and the massed phragmites, and beyond this overgrowth the sea. Her expression chilled my heart for the rest of the day, as I could not fail to make out the disappointment it displayed. I sat up straight on the chaise longue, like the man of self-respect I believed myself to be, and I prepared some remarks for the lady of the house on the importance of a dip in the north Atlantic on a day such as this. What ever else the day would bring her, I wanted to assure her, whether feast or famine, nothing would be accomplished through an expression of concern and disappointment. Put a little lift in your step! Whistle a bright melody!
The French door swung open. The woman I've described did not exit the house, did not come to stand upon the loggia with me. Far from it. I could see her chary eyes squinting against the sun.
"Dr. Van Deusen," she said. The chain remained on the door, though as everyone knows, we have effectively deprived the criminal element of any foothold in my town. The criminal element cannot afford the real estate prices, nor can they bother with the tedious ferry ride.
"Ma'am," I said, waiting for her name to come back to me, "it's a beautiful morning, and I was just thinking about a swim. The texture of sea salt and sun on the skin, well, it does build character."
"I'm surprised you can-" There was some kind of sublingual clucking from her, some censorious rhythmical clucking or taking, as though I should feel badly about something. And yet so far as I knew there was nothing to regret at all. "Well," she said at last, "can I help you get back to your house?"
I told her that I could very well get back under my own power. Of course, a brisk walk was one of the popular activities in our community of like-minded souls.
"Your wife took the car," she said.
"I remember perfectly."
Memory is an inconsistent retrieval system, as anyone will tell you. It's shot through with imprecisions. Occasionally, things happen that are beyond our ken, beyond our enfeebled understanding. Occasionally, we choose not to linger over events, the way a woman will cast off the particulars of her labor when that labor is completed, when the babe is brought flush into the world. It's this way with me. If I prefer to concentrate on the good things, a lovely bottle of wine, a fine sunset, an afternoon rowing in the harbor in my inflatable raft, who will say that my memory is insufficient? My memory is reliable on the very things it chooses to remember.
"Dr. Van Deusen," the woman began, and again I could hear a hectoring tone creeping into her pleasantries, as when she next said something about the constable. Frankly, I didn't appreciate her point of view. I've spoken with the constable on any number of occasions; for example, about the need for better policing at the ferry dock, about the unfortunate tendency of joyriders to speed down the main road to the country club. I've even advised him to detain certain young people who were frolicking dangerously in their convertibles. I also knew that the constable, whose position was largely honorary, had fiscal problems of his own and would not be drawn into any controversy having to do with this unhappy woman's loggia, nor with my ongoing desire to do reconnaissance on the loggias of my town.
Since I would not be talked down to, there was nothing to do but seize the copy of Omega Force: Code White and say farewell to the loggia and its commodious chaise longue. I pulled my polo shirt over my head, briefly getting this shirt caught on my spectacles, and I headed down the winding path to beachside. Did the woman call to me about whether I needed a towel? I believe she did. She asked if I needed a towel, and I believe that I specified that I liked plush towels. If there is one thing I cannot stand it is the thin white towel. I called behind me that I would accept a towel as long as it was large, plush, preferably navy blue, and if she could also bring a beverage, that would be welcome, maybe a screwdriver with a twist; I would be grateful for these additional gifts, and if it suited her, she could meet me on the beach, where the waves were rather disappointing for the commencement of autumn, which is, after all, hurricane season. In autumn, you expect some of the finest waves of the year.
Did I overlook to mention what kind of doctor I am? I am a doctor of public policy. I received my doctorate from Georgetown in the early sixties, and in this way it was not required that I serve in a certain Asian police action, though I would gladly have served, because I believe in making sacrifices for noble ideals. There were other impediments that might have made military ser vice impossible, however. I was married, of course, and my wife, who, as I say, prefers that I not use her real name in this account, was in social work and could not be counted on to be a wage earner. Furthermore, our son, Skip, of whom I am enormously fond, had some developmental problems. Skip has spent most of his life living at home with us. So I earned my doctorate, and in the sixties I went on to become an American civil servant. This was my way of giving back to the community, working my way up the ranks in the cabinet-level department known as Health, Education and Welfare. It's fair to say that this was not considered a proper job among the men of my family, most of whom went into business. I was good at Latin, I could do a geometry proof like I was born to it, but I was less gifted when it came to reading an earnings statement.
And now what I mean to discuss is the current national security climate.
Excerpted from Right Livelihoods by Rick Moody Copyright © 2007 by Rick Moody. Excerpted by permission.
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Meet the Author
RIGHT LIVELIHOODS is Rick Moody's eighth book. He has received the PEN/Martha Albrand Award, the Addison Metcalf Award, the Paris Review's Aga Khan Prize, and a Guggenheim Fellowship.
- New York, NY
- Date of Birth:
- October 18, 1961
- B.A., Brown University, 1983; M.F.A., Columbia University, 1986
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