Ted Mooney Essay - Critical Essays

Mooney, Ted


Ted Mooney 1951–

American novelist.

Mooney's trendy first novel, Easy Travel to Other Planets, moves at a disjointed velocity which Mooney sees as characteristic of life in the not-too-distant future. With humor and insight, he portrays the effects of a rapidly changing world upon its human inhabitants.

Paul Gray

[In Easy Travel to Other Planets] Melissa is a marine biologist who has become sexually involved with a dolphin named Peter. Jeffrey, Melissa's human lover, has given up a promising career as an architect to teach fifth-graders in the New York City public school system; he thinks of his students as "a kind of early warning system for what's next in the world." Meanwhile, their friend Nicole feels glum over the prospect of another abortion, her sixth…. Kirk, Jeffrey's twin brother, is taking parachute lessons in preparation for a photojournalistic assignment in Antarctica. The world, apparently, is ready to go to war over the natural resources under the South Pole.

If this does not sound like a recipe for trendy froth, then nothing can. But Author Ted Mooney adds some marijuana and gin, stirs and comes up with a substantial and moving first novel. For one thing, circumstantial whimsey is balanced against the pathos of characters trying to take their increasingly weird lives seriously….

Everyone struggles with the barrage of data that is modern life. Memory no longer seems able to file everything that the senses receive…. A new disease has begun to spread: Information Sickness, a kind of systems-overload…. What with all the new vibes zinging through the air and the characters' craniums, a totally unprecedented emotion has also been reported. One student describes it: "It's like … I don't know, it's like being in a big crowd of people without the people. And you're all traveling somewhere at this incredible speed. But without the speed."

Although no one spells it out, this "new emotion" sounds like the tactile knowledge of what being alive now, thanks to science and space probes, means: sitting on a crowded planet that is moving very fast…. The author sometimes reaches for cosmic consciousness and produces more comedy than insights…. He also convincingly portrays a kind of ambitious anxiety that can erupt at any time in the here and now. At 29, he may well be an early warning system for what fiction in the '80s will be like.

Paul Gray, "New Vibes," in Time (copyright 1981 Time Inc.; all rights reserved; reprinted by permission from Time), Vol. 118, No. 13, September 28, 1981, p. 85.

Webster Schott

Closing Ted Mooney's Easy Travel to Other Planets, I remembered reading for the first time J. D. Salinger's The Catcher in the Rye and James Purdy's 63: Dream Palace. Mooney has different ideas about how we live and feel, and the style to make them seem important….

Easy Travel involves principally two young couples, a late middle-aged couple, and a dolphin. The two most urgent of these characters are Melissa, a … marine biologist, and the dolphin, who is named Peter….

Since Easy Travel is mostly about the effects of erotic liaisons, the Melissa-Peter combination is only the most unusual of several….

Because Easy Travel is also about a general disjunction in American society, "being … thoroughly at the testy mercy of disorderly events," these emotional bondings tend to go nowhere except toward disaster. They become diluted by failures of talk and intention, existential angst, and the belief of the young that all alternatives are available and for unlimited time….

Ted Mooney's waffling couples recall Walker Percy's despairing characters who are unaware of being in despair, or the early lovers of Ernest Hemingway who think things may or may not get better. They provoke speculation. They are real enough to learn from. Their values are new, like some of the drugs they take. But their personal strategies are as old as the seven deadly sins. Everything is permitted in their relationships. Therefore everything is open, right? Wrong…. The new-value environment of Easy Travel to Other Planets is vitalized by the same confusions psychological fiction has been observing for a hundred years.

Aside from its exposures of character, I think the most intriguing qualities of Easy Travel are Ted Mooney's various proposals about sensory perception and social condition. (p. 5)

Some of Mooney's accessory diversions—his fragments on "Use of the Ray Gun," "Time Measured by the Clapping of Hands," and his yarn about Freud's dog Fritz—are not only irrelevant but impudent. Mooney has a big bag of tricks. He wants to do them all in his first novel. It's unnecessary. He writes elegant sentences. He understands human motives. His ideas are large. (p. 7)

Webster Schott, "Love in the Shallows," in Book World—The Washington Post (© 1981, The Washington Post), October 4, 1981, pp. 5, 7.

Meredith Marsh

The future is definitely upon [the protagonists of Easy Travel to Other Planets], but the people are recognizably ourselves and the time is very close to now: Mooney [uses] … imaginative devices to crystallize confusions that we already face. (p. 34)

[The reader] suffers a touch of information sickness by the time this hypnotic and compacted story ends. Along with the effects of rapid travel and communication, Mooney manages to pack in the fate of the family, the nature of art, the changing nature of science, twins, dolphins, death, and a brand new emotion, related to ESP. Even the moon itself glides on stage to deliver a few lines. Mooney is a deeply provocative writer, in all senses of the words, skilled enough at showing the ways in which these intellectual sounding subjects actually pump hearts that he could well have slowed down his plot to pay a little more attention to the motivations of the people. Instead they merely are like good cartoons, distinct at a glance but never developed. For this reason, although [the climax is] … beautifully written, [it is] … far less persuasive than the quiet scenes.

Perhaps the most surprising thing about so self-conscious a book is how unabashedly romantic it is, a tale of heroes and quests, with few of the usual ironic twists that assure the reader that the author knows it's all a game. This author, with his opening quotation from Levi-Strauss, does know perfectly well that it's a game, of course, but he plays it flat out and, on the whole, wins, sweeping us straight under the spell of his loquacious moon. Partly this is because, like his namesake, Mooney is such a beautiful and inventive stylist that he could make virtually any hocus-pocus work for a chapter or two, but it is mostly because he uses his taut style to convey a single emotion with relentless force, the same old dread of annihilation that is still, he makes clear, the fossil fuel that drives his pill-popping characters toward their high-speed futures. (pp. 34-5)

Meredith Marsh, "Auspicious Debuts," in The New Republic (reprinted by permission of The New Republic; © 1981 The New Republic, Inc.), Vol. 185, No. 16, October 21, 1981, pp. 33-5.∗

Jeffrey Burke

For the most part, Mooney's thoughtful treatment of the old problems prevents [Easy Travel to Other Planets] from being reductively classed as science fiction. It must, however, be taken on its own peculiar terms, which involve some of the symptoms of information sickness: "disconnected speech, apparent disorientation, and the desire to touch everything." (p. 83)

Unfortunately, Mooney's bid for uniqueness began to try my patience. It's relatively easy to accept an Antarctic war or the extremities of information overload; and his "new emotion," perhaps a key to the novel, has the plausibility of a kind of psychological poetry while suggesting Perelandra and sounding like space travel…. [But] Mooney's provocations only tantalize me into trying to figure him out. Distracted, I've lost sight of his characters' abortions, tumors, and dreams.

Mooney's vision of the future is just a bit too strange and his manner of conveying it too strained for such traditional themes as he pursues in Easy Travels…. And the disconnected nature of his novel is potentially as distracting to a reader as the novel's "reality" is to its characters. Those characters are trivialized in a way that has little to do with the pace and incoherence of Mooney's future.

I end up with an impression of a very talented writer whose next novel will be as serious in intention as this one but less strained in form, avoiding particularly small nonsense effects like: "Twenty feet away Peter made a noise like a cocktail party heard through waxed paper." (p. 84)

Jeffrey Burke, "First Time Out," in Harper's (copyright © 1981 by Harper's Magazine; all rights reserved; reprinted from the November, 1981 issue by special permission), Vol. 263, No. 1578, November, 1981, pp. 82-4.∗

The New Yorker

[Mr. Mooney] is a deft and wily writer; his descriptions of how a dolphin may think (it would have 9,017 names for the taste of water) and how it sometimes sounds … are matched by his sense of how human communication can bound and rebound beyond words.

"Briefly Noted: 'Easy Travel to Other Planets'," in The New Yorker (© 1981 by The New Yorker Magazine, Inc.), Vol. LVII, No. 38, November 9, 1981, p. 206.

Paul Stuewe

[Ted Mooney's novel] is another roadside attraction of the Tom Robbins variety, and the betting here is on a very short run. Heavy promotion and ultra-trendy plot segments such as a girl-meets-dolphin affair may sell it to younger readers, but the book's inept construction and relentlessly cute prose guarantee a widely remaindered future…. Easy Travel to Other Planets is merely the latest in a series of failed attempts to feather an already fully occupied Robbins' nest.

Paul Stuewe, "From Bauhaus to the Issa Valley to Wesley's England," in Quill and Quire (reprinted by permission of Quill and Quire), Vol. 47, No. 12, December, 1981, p. 32.∗


(The entire section is 102 words.)

Christopher Lehmann-Haupt

[Much] of "Easy Travel to Other Planets" is effective—the unusually vivid people that inhabit the story, its physical atmosphere of light and airiness, the sense it creates of the continuity of technology and people, the sense it creates of the growing discontinuity of human experience. One is especially struck by this sense of discontinuity, which Mr. Mooney achieves by mixing up his verb tenses, by disrupting the pace of the most ordinary action, and by inserting sudden, implausible scene changes….

[However], there is a little too much that goes on in Mr. Mooney's novel, what with its slightly overbusy plot and its superabundance of formal experiments. Some readers may be troubled, too, by what...

(The entire section is 245 words.)