Ted Mooney Paul Gray - Essay

Paul Gray

(Contemporary Literary Criticism)

[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.