Rich Moody

"The Diviners"

(Reviewed by Leland Cheuk APR 20, 2007)

“When she was at film school at Columbia, she used to go to the Twin Donut on Broadway, right under the elevated subway, but Twin Donut seems a lifetime away. Her romance is with Krispy Kreme now. It’s not only the remoteness of 125th Street, as a locale for a doughnut adventure, it’s not only that she’s going to be the only white face in the Krispy Kreme of 125th, it’s that she has the most decadent doughnut possible on her mind. It will be her fourteenth doughnut of the morning, and the contemplation of this sweetmeat is such that she hasn’t even explained it to her taxi driver. Yes, the most perfect representation of her isolation and restlessness is the triple-chocolate variety, with Bavarian chocolate custard, chocolate icing, and chocolate chips.”

The Diviners by Rick Moody

Rick Moody’s The Diviners is the modern literary novel’s equivalent of the Krispy Kreme donut. The prose looks good, sometimes even tastes good, but it’s decadent, flaccid and utterly nutritionless. Some critics have been more forgiving of Moody’s overlong satire the quest to produce a 13-part miniseries about diviners without a script. The Los Angeles Times Book Review called it “a satirical masterpiece.” Melvin Jules Bukiet wrote that The Diviners was “the most glorious book in ages.”

Perhaps those reviewers actually recall the last time a TV miniseries became a big enough hit (Roots? Shogun?)  to be satirized. The miniseries as the metaphorical symbol of the spiritual emptiness of Hollywood capitalism? Hollywood is not to blame for characters dumb enough to think that a miniseries could become a cultural phenomenon in the age of cable and TiVo.

The miniseries premise is just one of Moody’s many poor choices. The novel starts with a passage that will be savaged and satirized in graduating creative writing programs for decades to come. “The light that illuminates the world begins in Los Angeles. Begins in darkness, begins in the mountains, begins in empty landscapes, in doubt and remorse…But just at the moment of intolerability there’s an eruption of spectra. It’s morning. Morning is hopeful, uncomplicated, and it scales mountaintops, as it scales all things. Light edging over the mountaintops and across the lakes of the highlands, light across the Angeles National Forest, light rushing across skeins of smog in the California skies. Light upon…” This prologue goes on to “light upon” Crete, Talmudic scholars, the open sea and on and on for about 15 pages. Moody is not just trying to satirize Hollywood. He’s trying to make some sort of very important (read: unedited) commentary about its false divinity. Unlike Hollywood satirists like Michael Tolkin or Bruce Wagner or even Elmore Leonard, Moody really wants us to take Hollywood seriously.

But even if you get past the flawed premise, the low dramatic stakes, the fingernail-scraping omniscient narrator that makes Jonathan Franzen seem Carveresque, the characters are all highly derivative. Light upon the Jean Claude Van Damme-like second-rate actor that you might see on a Saturday Night Live episode. Light upon the donut-eating overweight female executive who is (what else?) a control freak. Light upon the Sikh taxi driver designed to make Moody’s cast diverse. Light upon the bipolar African-American bike messenger, the Asian woman, and at least three women between the ages of 25-39 with similar neuroses because one well-drawn character is never enough.

For all its transparent ambition, The Diviners succeeds in being occasionally amusing at best. One can only hope Moody returns to the autobiographical territory (The Ice Storm, Garden State) that made him successful to begin with.

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About the Author:

Rick MoodyRick Moody was born In 1961 in New York City. He grew up in the Connecticut suburbs, where he has set stories and novels He graduated from St. Paul's School in New Hampshire and from Brown University. He received his MFA from Columbia University in 1986.

His first novel Garden State won the Pushcart Editor's Choice Award. His memoir The Black Veil won the PEN/Martha Albrand Award for the Art of the Memoir. He has also received the Addison Metcalf Award, the Paris Review Aga Khan Prize, and a Guggenheim Fellowship . His work has appeared in The New Yorker, Esquire, the Paris Review, Harper's, Grand Street.

Moody is a member of the board of directors of the Corporation of Yaddo. He is the secretary of the PEN American Center. And he co-founded the Young Lions Book Award at the New York Public Library. He has taught at the State University of New York at Purchase, the Bennington College Writing Seminars, the Fine Arts Work Center in Provincetown, and the New School for Social Research.

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