The Diviners by Rick Moody '83 (Little Brown).
It's been seven years since Rick Moody's last novel, Purple America. In the meantime he's published a story collection, a memoir, a sci-fi novella, and now, with The Diviners, a hilarious and kaleidoscopic 567-page swipe at the sprawling machine that makes up Hollywood.
Set just after the 2000 election, as the country is lost in the drama of the hanging chad, The Diviners ostensibly chronicles an epic scramble by entertainment-industry types to acquire a TV miniseries about water dowsers, or diviners. It looks to be a multigenerational saga, from the time of the Huns in Mongolia, to the Mormons in Utah, to the founding of Las Vegas. The hook is that the actual script for The Diviners doesn't exist. Annabel Duffy, an assistant at the indie New York film company Means of Production, and Thaddeus Griffin, a fading actor who also works at the firm, have written a treatment to replace the lost script. All it takes is one bike messenger's mishap for complications to ensue.
You could tell a story like this as broad narrative, and, like Tom Wolfe's Bonfire of the Vanities or Jonathan Franzen's The Corrections, The Diviners clearly has those capture-the-moment ambitions. But Moody leaves the plot way down in the basement and focuses each chapter on a different character. The result is a series of generous and brilliant set pieces in which we pick up bits of the passing plot around the edges. At the novel's center is Vanessa Meandro, the statuesque, sweaty, scathing, Krispy Kreme- obsessed head of Means of Production. Surrounding her are her mother, Rosa Elisabetta, who believes she is a conduit for other people's cell-phone conversations; Ranjeet, the Sikh car-service driver with visionary theories on the future of television; Tyrone, the bipolar bike messenger and artist, who is also Annabel's brother; and Vic Freese, the failing talent agent who thinks the treatment for The Diviners is "really, really, really, really good." And that's only a partial list.
A good deal of the pleasure here also comes from following Moody's tendril-like sentences as they glide down the page or from watching the clauses pile up like planes coming in for a landing. Here he is giving us a glimpse of New York City though Vanessa's eyes: "The happy couples with their freshly cut lilies from the flower district; the pickup soccer players who never pass the ball; the weekend barbecue enthusiasts with their George Foreman barbeque products, their squeezable ketchup bottles, their chef's hats; the park bench romancers, mashing their chapped lips together; the carp feeders in the botanical gardens, mallards clustering before them awaiting the stale white bread, Vanessa has contempt for them all."
While someone might argue that the entertainment industry is an overly obvious target for a social satire, The Diviners is a fun and masterful ride. This is Rick Moody at his maximal best.