Purple America (Magill Book Reviews)
Rick Moody’s celebrated third novel PURPLE AMERICA encompasses two distinct but related stories: one the tale of Billie Raitliffe, suffering for decades from a progressive neurological disorder whose indignities she is determined to end by securing her grown son’s help in an assisted suicide, and the other an understated technothriller concerning an escalating crisis at the local nuclear power plant. Linking the two plots is Lou Sloane, Billie’s second husband, who is in a deepening crisis of his own: forced into retirement by plant management as a means of damage control concerning earlier operation problems, he finds himself unable to handle any longer his wife’s worsening despondency and has abruptly abandoned her. Faced with a new level of isolation from those around her, Billie resorts to the use of a voice synthesizer she has long resisted so as to summon Dexter, her only child, whose nickname “Hex” underscores the unlikelihood of his being able to assume the responsibilities the normally rock-steady Lou has abdicated.
A freelance public relations agent living in New York, Hex is isolated from meaningful engagement with others by long-standing psychological impediments dramatized by the severe stutter that intrudes on even the most heartfelt efforts to communicate with those he loves. His initial resistance to his mother’s request gives way over the course of the fifteen hours he is in Connecticut—time during which he plumbs the...
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Purple America (Magill's Literary Annual 1991-2005)
Purple America marks a new level of accomplishment for Rick Moody, who won the 1992 Pushcart Prize and has been regularly cited as among the most gifted writers of his generation. Moody himself regards Purple America as a deliberate corrective to his critical reputation as an essentially cerebral artist. He does not relish having been dubbed the heir apparent to John Updike and John Cheever as the chronicler of what one reviewer calls “the psychedelic twilight of the suburbs.” While Moody identifies himself as a “late modern” writer, his literary mannerisms—a baroque rhetorical style, a trenchant eye for the revelatory minutiae of consumer culture, and an acerbic, at times cartoonish, rendering of the physical and psychological indignities of the contemporary human condition—recall the postmodern extravagances of Thomas Pynchon and Don DeLillo. Yet alongside its dazzling linguistic display and comic audacity, Purple America evinces a deeply felt compassion for its characters.
The novel unfolds along two narrative tracks, one involving the catastrophic illness of Billie Raitliffe Sloane, the other documenting the escalating breakdowns and resultant spills of an aging nuclear power plant until recently supervised by Billie’s second husband, Lou Sloane. Both stories illustrate the desperate, largely futile efforts made by modern society to stave off the ravages of time on humans and machines alike.
(The entire section is 1876 words.)