A Response to Moody's Style

Lou Rowan

If people are apparitions, alien presences whose mundane doings are so doggedly absurd some kind of devil is driving their details, then capturing that imp’s infestations requires an elegantly nagging language. For a characteristic of devils is they come at you and come at you with the same old goods, repetitions tempting in their tricky packaging.

And if the world of your novel is a purgatory in which people are tested by their own natures, a world of impulses so run amok that it resembles a tabloid or tv-series version of itself, but you love that world to death, you really are sympathetic with characters whose behavior is so wonderfully shallow only their mother could love them, how to present them outside the family?

Well, how about a style as relentless as they are, repetitious as they are, but with an impetus that can make them not only funny (the family that laughs together….) but also such wild presences you can no more escape them than George Burns could escape his Gracie—and no more want to.

We have to assume that God loves his creation: it’s his responsibility, so he’d better. The first chapter of The Diviners shines the floodlight of the sun (“presumably eternal”) around the globe, there is light, and the show begins. Begins with the first generation impelled to a prodigious bout with the toilet. For there are two generations in this novel: the first, four hapless parents an inventory of whose talents adds up to uninspired preaching, ineffectual psychologizing, neglect, and abrasive dependency. We begin in the toilet with the abrasively dependent, whose alcoholism causes her to lie about everything to herself and her daughter. Here she is, folks:

Rosa Elisabetta Meandro, in insubstantial light, entrails in flames. Rosa Elisabetta of the hammertoe. Rosa Elisabetta of the corns. Rosa Elisabetta of the afflictions.

No verbs: the style-action is to present Rosa, and repetition of names, of noun-facts, of nouns in adjectival phrases is how we do it in this show. The characterization of Rosa (who ends her part in Florida clearing up the 2000 electoral mess) takes its rhetoric, partly, from the rhythm of old folks’ complaints about symptoms, which continues:

…[T}here is the colitis, there are the corns, there is the pancreas, there are the headaches. At least four things. Gas, though it’s not proper to talk about it. On nights when the garlic has not been properly sautéed according to the cuisine of her ancestral homeland, Tuscany, then there is also the gas.

The verb to be carries this novel. A book of presences, presented most frequently by is and are. Understatement of people and events that overstate themselves--a set of connectives between nouns that become assertive, that jump at you like apparitions. Very little discussion of these folks--what’s there to discuss, they’re as obvious as most of us. So let’s make the obvious lively, spotlighting it with the herbs and simples of language, California cuisine in words, and let’s keep the discursive out of this show. It’s a language that stands next to, or maybe like a good therapist with hands on shoulders eliciting words, stands with the characters.

I believe that Gertrude Stein’s language was an eschewal of argument, and that this novel represents a more conventional approach than hers liberated by hers, whether the possibilities were presented by direct study or by breathing the airs she liberated.

And I believe she might enjoy another of its plays, which might be called horizontal hooks and ladders. An important producer (part of the first generation of failures) muses on a teenager with scoliosis, who emerged from his bed a star:

Only a television executive can know this stuff, that is image is the thing, and the image is the secret, and the secret is that the broken girls are things of myth, things you can devote yourself to, and that the devotion has to be in secret because only things in secret last, because when the broken girl leaves and takes up with a series of club rats, a sequence that may or may not include a guy who drives his care into a diamond merchant’s display window, then your know that you still have your secret, and you treasure your secret, your humiliation, while your own body wastes away, and your career dwindles into twilight, and your wife leaves and begins her insane sequence of plastic surgeries, only a television executive can know all these things, all these sorrows.

The repeated words cause the phrases and clauses to attach to each other like identical parts of unfolding ladders, rather than develop from each other as they would in argument. And the word “things,” almost as important as the copulative verb in this book, renders the turgid emotional content a series of objects, or rungs. And here it’s as if a bunch of firefighter trainees decide that climbing the walls of the abandoned hospital on Roosevelt Island is too taxing, and so they invent horizontal firefighting, which is much faster than vertical, because you can run along the ladders, miss rungs, sling the hooks onto anything you please, but you will for sure get to the top, or rather the end, “all these things, all these sorrows.” That’s why we are so cocksure verbally, we know we’ll get there, wherever that is, or as our supposititious youth culture has it, whatever.

It is not the sins of the fathers visited upon their young, it is the sins of the young revisiting the sins of their fathers, their friends, their colleagues, their culture, it’s a visitation in our lives of all the devils to whom we pay dues in a nation of immigrants, the first of whom we see purging her guts in a Brooklyn toilet, the last of whom we see near the Rio Grande border to democratic purgatory limping thirstily into a Grand Am towards God knows what—followed by an epilogue in which mis-Judgment upon the entertainment project motivating them all is rendered by a Justice of the Supreme Court that gave us the malicious fool in the White House whose administration speeds our game of destruction.