Purple America

(Critical Survey of Contemporary Fiction)

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 depths of his own weaknesses in his inability either to...

(The entire section is 622 words.)