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February 12, 2009 |

By Miscellaneous | Books | February 12, 2009 |

Quite often, reality sucks. While it would be nice to follow the Buddhist tradition of “right livelihood,” which advocates living without harming others, few of us can do this all the time. Instead, we work hard to eke out an existence and then watch as some selfish bastard tries to take our little corner of serenity and appropriate it for himself. Or at least so it seems to the three protagonists of Rick Moody’s Right Livelihoods, who face the same problem, to varying results. Like most of us, the stars of Right Livelihoods fall short of living up to the Buddhist goal. While each tries to act for the betterment of humanity, they instead allow paranoia and delusion to overtake them.

“The Omega Force” follows the illustrious Dr. Van Deusen, a recovering alcoholic living on a resort island in an effort to clean up his act. A retired government official, Dr. Van Deusen now finds conspiracy all around him. The novella begins as Dr. Van Deusen awakens on the porch of another’s house. Confused (and most likely hungover), he finds a paperback open at his feet and promptly takes it. This novel, Omega Force: Code White, soon forms the basis of Van Deusen’s paranoid delusion in which “dark-complected” individuals are planning a terrorist attack. It isn’t long before everything Van Deusen sees and hears are transformed into subtle, coded messages that he alone can interpret.

Of the three novellas, “The Omega Force” is the funniest. This crazy fucker performs the Dance of the Stick for heaven’s sake. (How does he find a good stick, you ask? Excellent question. He licks stick after stick until he finds the perfect one. Naturally.) Sure, he’s delusional, but he’s harmless enough. He truly believes he alone can save humanity from an evil terrorist plot.

That’s more than we can say for Ellie, the protagonist of “K&K,” the second novella. Unlike her counterpart in “The Omega Force,” Ellie is not trying to save the world; she is, however, trying to save the purity of the office suggestion box. As the office manager at an insurance company, it is Ellie’s responsibility to oversee suggestions that are left in an old tissue box that she herself decorated. When someone begins leaving negative suggestions in the box, Ellie is sent over the edge. Determined to find the culprit behind such messages (one reads, “You ought to throw this fucking coffee machine out the window and run over it with a car.”), she conducts her own investigation into the affair. Much like Dr. Van Deusen, Ellie is far from insightful. Unfortunately, an opportunity for the truly comic or the truly profound is lost; while the premise of “K&K” sounds quite promising, this novella dragged and soon felt stale, especially since readers can identify the culprit long before Ellie does.

The final novella, “The Albertine Notes,” is the most powerful of the three. Set in New York City after it has been devastated by a terrorist attack that has destroyed most of Manhattan, the story follows Kevin Lee, a writer trying to trace the origin of Albertine, a new drug that has become all the rage in the wake of the attack. Albertine brings both peaceful forgetfulness and simultaneously allows the user to fully experience the past in all its beautiful (and pre-blast) glory. Because the drug causes both forgetfulness and memory, the line between the two is soon blurred, and Lee soon finds himself unsure as to what is real and what is imagined. “Albertine” shines when describing the blast’s effects on both daily and city life, but the overly ambiguous conclusion detracts from the story as a whole and feels forced and unnatural.

Overall, Right Livelihoods was an interesting, mostly entertaining read that felt as though it could have been much better than it was. This was the first time I’ve read Moody, however, and I have a sneaking suspicion this wasn’t the best introduction to his work. While Right Livelihoods wasn’t as good as I’d hoped it would be, it was good enough to convince me to read something else by him. The man behind the Dance of the Stick certainly deserves another go.

Jennifer McKeown reads way too much and blogs about her experiences over at Bibliolatry.

Right Livelihoods by Rick Moody / Jennifer McKeown

Books | February 12, 2009 |

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