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Jeremy Simmons reviews (and provides a brilliant illustration for) Rick Moody’s new novel, a fictional collection of hotel reviews.

Rick Moody, Hotels of North America (Little, Brown and Co, 2015) 198pp.

If you could transmute a Tom Waits song into a novel you might very well end up with Hotels of North America by Rick Moody. The collection of anecdotal hotel ‘reviews’ reads like a skid row lullaby, leaving out few juicy details about its down at the heels narrator. By turns tragic, grotesque and hilarious, Moody’s latest novel, a short read at just under two hundred pages, is a nonlinear collection of the rented room experiences of one top reviewer for the fictional site RateYourLodging.com.

The ‘reviews’, however, have little to do with the hotels in question and are portraits of the narrator himself, with each reviewing giving us more insight into the character. His sordid accounts come from campsites where shitfaced campground managers challenge him to perilous games of ping-pong, to upscale airport hotels filled with businessmen and their collective loneliness. The voice of Moody’s narrator, Reginald Edward Morse, treads the line between lunacy and hilarity. The narrative gives periodic hints at the chain of events that has led him to the bottom rung, while some scenes threaten to asphyxiate the reader with laughter. An episode at the Viking Motel in Oregon, for example, gives us Morse sitting half-drunk before a nervous couple in his seedy motel room. He’s preparing them for the day when he will “officiate their nuptials” when he notices his genitals are hanging out of the slapdash outfit he yanked on when they arrived, little more than boxer shorts and fishing waders. He struggles to keep the young couple distracted while making adjustments to hide “the sack portion of [his] private self.” The overarching theme of these reviews is a general feeling of disgust at the conditions of the hotels, the lies we tell ourselves to make do with being alone, and the rationalization behind systematized use of in-room pornography.

TheKey copy

The Key, by Jeremy Simmons

Broadly speaking, Hotels of North America is a very enjoyable read, and Moody’s prose reaches unashamedly into disturbing places where other authors won’t go, while recounting the exploits of the former motivational speaker, now divorced alcoholic hotel reviewer Morse. His voice is consistent, remaining at arm’s length from the reader with a touch of formality that only makes the funny parts funnier, and the morose ramblings even more tragic. There are times the book meanders into the deliberately gratuitous, without a clear motivation for why the author made this choice. The book ends with the disappearance of Morse, perhaps finishing the portrait of a character in decline, but for a while its difficult to find anything to root for in him, in fact I began not to like him and that’s a dangerous place for an author to go with their lead (and essentially only) character. A character mired in failure like Morse should be desperate to escape his circumstances and yet he seems not to care one way or the other. While there are assuredly such people in our lives, in the literary world it’s difficult to get behind a character who’s failing and doesn’t seem to give a damn. On the other hand, it makes the reading experience profoundly unsettling.

At times I could not escape the feeling that Hotels was more of a writing project than a cohesive narrative. Then, just near the end, the novel takes a turn I had not expected:  an erudite and tender longing for ‘home’, and a bemoaning of the ugliness of his hotel-to-hotel existence. This man is, at the last, redeemed by his longing for home. Of curious design is the Afterword, written in the deliberate voice of Moody as Moody, a kind of meta-review of his own work, as though Morse and his uploaded reviews for RateYourLodging.com had really existed. Jorge Luis Borges might have appreciated this mobius strip of storytelling, and Moody here strips  Morse of all his uniqueness, as though this final few pages were an apotheosis of the pathetic hotel reviewer into the Everyman. Apparently Morse disappeared from the face of the earth and the more the man was sought, the less any signs of his passing led to answers. The value of this Afterword is debatable, and lends the entire narrative the flavor of a mystery, if not exactly a whodunit, rather than a very personal diary of a broken life. Some might feel that Moody should’ve stopped with the touching chapter where the narrator suddenly aches for home, and all it represents, and his desire to be, if nothing else, the “father who at all costs wanted to keep his daughter away from bedbugs.” Others will appreciate this metatextual and self-reflective finale which throws identity into question.

Some readers will doubtless take more from this book, especially in its ending, than I did, and might find more meaning in the squalid life of its narrator. For that reason anyone interested in this book should give it a go. Moody’s writing chops alone are a treat, and with more than a few belly laughs embedded into the calamities of Reginald Edward Morse, the read is well worth the time. A snippet of the book is also available at http://www.rateyourlodging.com, which is well worth a visit.

moody

Jeremy Simmons is a writer, artist and game designer who keeps very late hours. His writing explores dreams (and nightmares), time and the inexplicable nature of the human condition. His work has appeared in Best Modern Voices, ShortVine and The News Record, among others

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