Leave it to Moody. The main character of THE DIVINERS isn't even human! The Diviners is a script for a blockbuster saga, broken into thirteen episodes as a made-for-television movie. Set the day after the 2000 elections, THE DIVINERS could be described as Rick Moody's updated take on Dos Passos's MANHATTAN TRANSFER, encompassing new versions of old tales such as "The Tortoise and the Hare," "The Purloined Letter," and even the common college student's writing exercise --- If you saw an envelope on a desk, would you open it?
Moody's character, Vic Freese (who might well have appeared in Moody's most popular work, THE ICE STORM), opens the envelope to reveal the script of The Diviners as all of man's history is a quest for survival, a quest for suitable water that could only be found by the magical forked stick in the hands of a diviner or dowser. The higher calling of the quest for truth is clouded when faced with survival itself --- a point Moody wiggles into the narrative of his characters' lives, from the old woman drinking beer on the toilet to the corporate executive faced with the widely discounted Myers-Briggs late 1990s-era personality profile.
A shared subconsciousness brought on by acute mental illness, self-destruction, and today's telecommunications saturation causes a groupthink in New York City that ties the many characters of THE DIVINERS together as they take the next broad leap in the history of mankind. Of course, this theme is a lot to take on in a mere 567 pages, but Moody is a postmodernist most of the time, so anything goes.
THE DIVINERS is character-driven and satirical, hard-hitting when exposing the phoniness of Hollywood players and how their lies have affected everything from the failure of modern publishing to the failure of politics and government --- a representation without representation, taxation that taxes our minds now that our wallets are empty; the warped American mindset that tolerates and even endorses mediocrity, censorship, prejudice, genocide, Christian fundamentalism, greed, ignorance, and, worst of all, motivational speakers and reality shows.
Who's inside the inside? There's Vanessa Meandro, a Krispy Kreme (Earth's lightest, highest-calorie donut) addict and slave driver in charge of Means of Production, the independent film agency fumbling with the script of The Diviners; Annabel Duffy, struggling office assistant and anonymous co-author of The Diviners with drunken, philandering faded action film star Thaddeus Griffin; painter turned bicycle messenger Tyrone Duffy, who may have assaulted a woman with a brick; mad hate crime driver Ramon Martinez; Ranjeet Singh, the Eastern Indian television expert/car service driver who wants to work in production; Mormon millionaire Zimri Enderby; corporate king Jeffrey Meiser, who just might buy The Diviners; accountant Lois DiNunzio who's all mixed up with another accountant who would make Enron look clean; and Laurie Anderson, Donald Trump and Matt Dillon, real stars sprinkled through the night life of THE DIVINERS.
One hundred characters fill the novel. However, their lives, like the news-dumb society of today's America, are about as interesting as, well, "news" --- all headlines and little substance or emotion. Moody skims the surface of New York life for a novel that works startlingly well if the thinness portrayed in Capote's ANSWERED PRAYERS is what is intended (theorists say Capote failed because he could not find what Proust revealed since the Manhattan rich are so shallow --- and who can find a there when there is no there there?). Which all ties back to the script itself, a piece of revisionist history stripped of its humanity; a formula movie, a "formula" formula spoon fed to the millions of People magazine junkies who pride themselves on being part of opening-day box office statistics (these people are real --- I sat next to one at the office!).
For lovers of literature, Moody preaches to the choir --- readers who already know that it is high time to throw our televisions into the harbor and reject all that television has stolen from America's soul. For this point, THE DIVINERS is a masterpiece. For this point, THE DIVINERS begs us to stop watching, stop worshipping, and start living, a calling obese America simply cannot heed. Why think when you can watch?
Reviewed by Brandon M. Stickney on December 29, 2010