Rick Moody, known for fiction exploring the domestic travails of suburbia, changes pace with his new novel, The Diviners. The author of The Ice Storm devotes at least one chapter to each of a dozen or more disparate characters in the sprawling, comedic, 567-page portrait of people in the orbit of a proposed TV miniseries that spans thousands of years following people with a genetic aptitude for dowsing for water. On Sept. 22, the American Shorts Reading Series will host Moody, who'll read from The Diviners. He spoke by phone from his home in Brooklyn.
Which came first in The Diviners, characters or story?
I knew I had the film company people. I wanted to work with that stuff a little bit because I had a novel [The Ice Storm] that was turned into a movie once, and so I have some experience with movie-business sorts of things. But my article of faith that all novels have to have subplots sort of got the better of me. The more I started dealing with these other characters, the more I started liking them too, and it just turned into one of these gigantic, Dickensian kind of novels.
It has a collage feel at times.
I really believe that literature is a sort of a community artifact, at its best. It depicts whole communities better than individuals. That's how we respond to it, like it's telling us news about how we all live in the world. Even a Holden Caulfield becomes an idea about how everybody lives at a certain moment. It seems in some way to be an improvement on these little domestic novels, because you get to see all kinds of different people, and America has all different kinds of people.
Why is it set just after the 2000 election?
At the time I began writing the book, there were a lot of people sort of rushing to write about 9/11, and I didn't think I was ready to get into that zeitgeist of post-9/11 times yet. That time from Election Day to when the Supreme Court certified the election was this interregnum, a period between the go-go, Internet-bubble Bill Clinton years and the dark, security-obsessed, paranoid George W. Bush years.
Don't the characters who intend the miniseries The Diviners for a mass audience contradict the trend toward niche marketing?
The whole notion of niche marketing is overrated: The demographic fragmentation of the culture is overrated. There are many more things that connect us than disconnect us.
Many of the characters are united by the need to believe in something.
Ranjeet, the Sikh character, gets this three-page monologue about the history of television at one point, and the goal is to suggest that popular culture really does have moral thinking, moral logic, philosophical logic behind it. It's not just pabulum. People's desire for those kind of narratives is not a hundred percent banal. There's real longing going on there.
That was actually one of the first things that got me excited about the book. When I was working on my last book [The Black Veil], which was this memoir, a lot of which had to do with my historical ancestors in Maine, I started reading up on dowsing, which is incredibly popular in Maine. People really believe it.
Anything else about the book?
I wrote it not to try to knot people's brows, but to try to delight them a little bit. And the highest praise I think I can get out of people at this point is to say they turned the pages fast because they were really excited to see what would happen.