In the last year, I’ve discovered that breed of novel that you might call… “rambling”, “the super-novel”, or “books like Gravity’s Rainbow and Infinite Jest and the like.” Haven’t made the attempt at Jest yet, but it is on my list. Gravity’s Rainbow, as faithful readers of this blog (and those savvy readers of John Warner’s Biblioracle interviews) will know is a book that completely changed my life. The Four Fingers of Death, from its fun B-movie artwork to its fun B-movie description, didn’t appear to be one of these sprawling super-novels at first. It wasn’t until I read some reviews that I noticed the potential super-novel trend. Yes, I’m trying to say super-novel often enough that it gets embedded in your lexicon. But I digress, much like this book though not to that extent.
I don’t know if Rick Moody is a bad writer or if Montrese Crandall is the bad one. The Ice Storm is supposed to be good, as is The Diviners…. but fuck me, this book was tough to get through – and not in the “I know I’ll be rewarded” way that Gravity’s Rainbow did so well. It is a book within a book – or, as the point-of-no-return footnote mentions, really three differing books… – that’s based off of a movie remake that hasn’t happened of a movie that no one remembers. It’s set in 2025 and there’s a talking chimpanzee. And lots and lots of digression.
The first part of the novel is an “introduction” by Montrese Crandall, ostensible author of the novelization of the 2025 remake The Four Fingers of Death. He starts to tell us the story of how he managed to get the gig writing this novelization… but then he interrupts himself with the novelization itself just as he enters into the chess game to win the gig. Then, the big kicker (and YES SPOILERS shall abound): the first half of the novelization isn’t actually part of the movie. It’s backstory that Crandall made up in order to, I don’t know, do his damn thing. The sad part is, this is probably the best part of the book – this part that has no “real” value in the realm of the novel. Its a space story in the classic vein, with astronauts going to Mars and going crazy and killing and screwing and all that. I enjoyed that part.
Moody’s decision to have Crandall insert that little footnote just… well, it pissed me off royally. I mean, really just… grr. It was totally unnecessary and made you feel like you just wasted your time. The second half of the novelization, as a result, was an increasing push to just GET THIS OVER WITH on my part. I flew through it and basically sped-read the last 25 pages this morning. I hated the characters, I didn’t care about the plot, and the most enjoyable moments were the ones where the progress of the hand was described. The digressions of topics of all sorts – the utter repetitive rambling… it killed me.
Rating: 3 out of 5. “Why Drew!” you exclaim. “It sounded like you mostly hated it. How three?” and I respond “Three because of that section on Mars.” Yeah, it was still poorly written in a very hacky way (and, incidentally, if Moody actually did completely mask his literary talents in order to write at the hack-level of Crandall… then he’s maybe the best fucking writer alive) but it was fun. That’s more than I can say for the rest of the book – but if you excised that Mars bit and turned it into its own short novel, it might be worth more than the rest of this book combined.