Right Livelihoods 

Rick Moody • Little, Brown and Co. • Available now

The typically truculent literary-critic, novelist and hatchet-man Dale Peck once used his New Republic soapbox to condemn Rick Moody as “the worst writer of his generation.” Aligned with, and one of the standouts of the McSweeney’s set, it’s no surprise Moody would perturb the hawkish Peck, who seems to favor the austere over the Auster-esque.

The most cohesive thread connecting the novellas in Moody’s new triptych, Right Livelihoods, is that now-familiar strain of post-9/11 paranoia (terrorism, global warming, illegal immigrants, oh my!). Moody has referred to Nabokov’s “referential mania” in describing his three protagonists’ deluded quests for truths that may or may not exist. The narrators, protagonists and anti-heroes of Moody’s novellas are all three quintessentially unreliable, each falling and faltering along an axis of intoxication, psychosis, denial, and/or complete metaphysical detachment from a fathomable time/space reality. The first story, “The Omega Force”, for example, deals with the intersection of old age and alcoholism: the point where an adult imagination (d)evolves into the abnegation of reality and where xenophobia (“they hate us for our freedoms”) masquerades as patriotism.

Another undercurrent in all three stories is the power of the written word — the manipulative acts of reading and writing (the Public Library is one of the few buildings left intact after much of Manhattan is annihilated in “The Albertine Notes”). Not unlike Calvino or Pynchon, Moody’s intertextuality serves to layer his plots and themes nearly into palimpsests. Alongside the characters, you lose track of which fiction you’re reading at any one point. “The Omega Force” is the name of both the first novella and a pulp mystery novel within the story that triggers a wealthy government retiree’s schizoid and liquor-fueled suspicions; notes in a suggestion box push the office manager in “K&K” toward madness; and the titular document in “The Albertine Notes” might be the final key to a looming apocalypse, humanity’s last hope for survival, or neither.

Moody hasn’t quite attained the postmodern mastery of, say, David Mitchell — he’s not as confident with his postmodern prose or apocalyptic plots — but if Right Livelihoods is any indication, he has it in him. Dale Peck, I’m sorry, but you were wrong.

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