Book review: The Diviners

originally published 5.2.07

My review of The Diviners by Rick Moody. And by “review” I mean “pathetic ode to one of my favorite authors.”

I like Rick Moody. I like books that make me cringe, that make me hate humanity, that make my stomach feel like it’s being clawed from the inside out. My first Rick Moody was The Ice Storm, because I mentioned to Pat during our Glenville Days that I really liked that movie and he told me the book put the movie to shame. Always happy to take a bet that might give me more fodder for calling Pat stupid, I read it. I hate it when he’s right.

After that I read Garden State, which I liked so much I bought for myself the other day just to have it on the shelf. When all you foreigners think of Jersey (and honest to God no one says “Joisey”, and it’s not even remotely funny or insulting when you say it. You just look like a jackass.) you mostly think of landfills, of abandoned buildings, of people sort of lost with no desire to do any better for themselves, of a constant smooth gray sky and bare branches and a general disappearance of hope. Reading Garden State made me feel that the entire time I was reading it.

Next up was Purple America (this might be a good time to do the obligatory plug for the bargain book table at Brookline Booksmith), which I read this winter. On bibliophil, I said this:

I really really love reading Rick Moody.  I think he’s easily one of the best authors out there.  But Jesus his work is depressing.  I always feel emotionally drained after reading his work.  This one had me gasping and cringing and wanting to read ahead because the tension was making me so anxious.  Excellent.

Purple America was set in the course of a day, and was a really close character study of some truly pitiful, awful people. The kind of people who sit next to you on the T, and you get up and change seats. I had no intention of reading another Moody for a while.  It’s a really exhausting experience. But then I placed an Amazon order for something, and of course I just had to get the free shipping, and in browsing for another book to put my purchase amount in the free shipping range, I came across The Diviners. I’d not heard of it, and the reviews (sidebar: reading Amazon reviews is one of my favorite ways to amuse myself – it’s like the internet equivalent of radio call in shows: yokels sharing poorly developed opinions) said it was funny, which immediately had me curious. So I bought it. And I started reading.

The first chapter was not funny. It was disturbing and weird and stomach-turning. Ok, maybe a little funny, too. And that weird stomach-turning feeling isn’t lost in the rest of the book, which does actually get funny. Laugh out loud funny, even. I love the way he introduces characters and their story lines and how they eventually all cross one another.  He takes the main story line, which is predictable and a little overused, and makes it worth reading not because of the topic itself but because of what he’s saying with it. Stories within stories and they all make you feel like a waste of space. You hate these people, you love them, you hate that you are kind of like them. Easter Sunday I was reading a chapter on the T that made me depressed – not sad for the character, but generally depressed, so that when my ride picked me up at the station I was nearly in tears. I just felt hopeless. From a BOOK. And then I spent the next chapter laughing my ass off.

Pat wants to know what I thought of the book. I think if you don’t read it, Pat, you are a dumbass. I’ll probably think that anyway, but I will think you less of a dumbass if you read this book. Also then we can talk about it over some beer and pretend we’re, like, smart and stuff and that we have important things to say and for a little bit we can forget that we are just morbid cynics who drink too much.

Thanks, Rick Moody.

By Jennifer Spencer

I'm a storyteller, food lover, book collector, and a Southerner at heart. I love connecting people.