Sunday, February 7, 2016

Book Review: "Hotels of North America" by Rick Moody

As a society, we're kind of obsessed with giving our opinions about everything—restaurants, movies, businesses, products, etc. (No, the irony is not lost on me that I'm making this comment in a book review I'm writing.)

While many of these reviews you find on sites like Yelp or Amazon (or Goodreads) can be useful, have you ever stopped to wonder what possesses people to share stream-of-consciousness ramblings that have very little relevancy to what is being reviewed? And while we're at it, have you ever been so interested in these people that you find yourself reading a lot of their reviews?

This is the concept behind Rick Moody's Hotels of North America. Presented as a compendium-of-sorts of the reviews of Reginald Edward Morse, which he posted on a fictional website called, the book is both a commentary about one person's opinions on the declining state of many of the country's (and the world's) hotels, as well as the portrait of a man whose life is spiraling out of control, and how he chooses to handle it.

Morse started his career as an investment banker and erstwhile day trader, only to suddenly pursue a (not particularly) successful career as a motivational speaker. As his reviews unfold, we learn that he has been as unlucky in love as he has been in his career—his marriage has ended, and his short-lived affair with a "certain professor of language arts" didn't last, although he admitted to sporadic "bouts of recidivism" where she was concerned. In some of his reviews he mentions K., his companion (who also likes to be referred to by various bird names), with whom he experiences some of the worst hotel experiences, and with whom he practices a number of different cons to try and avoid paying for said hotel stays.

Hotels of North America is similar to Julie Schumacher's Dear Committee Members in that the reviews that comprise this book are much less about the hotels than about Morse's state of mind, although the latter book is more humorous in tone than this one is. Morse comments on everything from front desk clerks at cut-rate hotels ("The young man at the front desk looked like there was no sorrow he had not experienced") to cheese grits (" is not possible to consider a serving of cheese grits as falling under the rubric of grits") and Waffle House (" was presumed at Waffle House that you were on your last nickel, that you had squandered opportunities, that all was illusion"). He also takes the time to criticize those on who call his veracity into question, or simply criticize his writing or make assumptions about his personal habits.

One of my favorite pieces of Morse's commentary is his thoughts on bed-and-breakfasts: "To summarize, these are the three main problems of bed-and-breakfast establishments: throw pillows, potpourri, and breakfast conversation, and the fourth problem is gazebos. And the fifth problem is water features. And the sixth problem is themed rooms, and the seventh problem is provenance (who owned the inn before and who owned the inn before that, and who owned it before that, and what year the bed-and-breakfast was built, and how old the timber is in the main hall), and the eighth problem is pride of ownership, because why can't it just be a place you stay, why does it always have to be an ideological crusade?"

The reviews are interesting, at times funny, at times poignant, but the book seems to drag on longer than it needs to. And then Moody throws himself into the story, under the guise that he had been asked to write an afterword for the compilation of Morse's reviews, only to find Morse had vanished. I felt this was an unnecessary gimmick that, while it provided some interesting commentary, didn't advance the book in any way.

This is only the second book of Moody's I've ever read, the first being The Ice Storm a number of years ago. As with that book, Hotels of North America proves his storytelling ability and his talent at satirizing suburban America and its denizens. I just wish the book was longer on substance and shorter on gimmickry.

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