The Rumpus Interview with Rick Moody

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The cover of Hotels of North America claims it to be “a novel” written “by Rick Moody.” This is odd given that what’s inside is a collection of hotel, motel, and bed & breakfast reviews written by one Reginald Edward Morse from 2010 to 2014 and posted to the website RateYourLodging.com. Moody, to hear him tell it, says he only wrote the afterword.

Dubious provenance aside, Morse’s writing leaves a strong impression of its writer while at the same time skirting much of what typically makes a novel a novel. Whether he knew it or not, writing about lodgings freed Morse to be honest about himself in a way most never could be when writing explicitly about themselves. In the majority of Morse’s reviews, the lodgings are only mentioned obliquely, and instead Reginald investigates what it means to live a life, one night at a time, in a flooded, prison-cell like room in Copenhagen, a warehouse backroom in Brooklyn.

As biography goes, little is known about Morse other than what he divulged himself in his writing. Many believe the name to be a pseudonym. Much more is known about Moody, who, because of his afterword, now has the nuisance of serving as the vanished Morse’s de facto spokesperson. Moody is the author of The Ice Storm as well as The Four Fingers of Death. He is a frequent contributor to The Rumpus.

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The Rumpus: After reading this book, I have a strong sense of Reginald, though I don’t know a lot of nuts and bolts type things about him. How deliberate were you creating a character who makes an impression rather than a revelation, who makes me as a reader feel more than think?

Rick Moody: Ryan, you seem to be operating under the theory that I wrote this book, and that I am not, as the book itself advertises, the guy writing the afterword. As such, who am I to say that Reg Morse, whose writings are collected in the book erroneously entitled Hotels of North America, is a character of my creation? Nothing could be ruder! While I have not as yet met the guy, I feel, as you seem to, that even if his work is somehow the pseudonymous creation of some other Internet-related malcontent, some Reddit troll who is going to Underearners Anonymous by day, he does seem to exude a certain set of pulsations that are actual. I feel like you can sort of tell what kinds of things the guy is interested in.

That said, if you are asking my opinion, as a guy who is decently well read, whether I think it’s important that a book have a lot of “nuts and bolts” context about a character in it, by which I assume you mean “relevant backstory,” I guess I am of the same opinion as you. Who gives a fuck? I certainly don’t go into Beckett’s trilogy thinking: I really need to know about Molloy’s cleft palate, and the feelings of isolation that this cleft palate engendered in him when he was a small boy living in the Irish countryside. I don’t have feelings like that, Ryan, as you don’t seem to have either. Isn’t there a theory that Don Quixote has a maimed hand like his creator, Miguel de Cervantes? I think there’s a theory along these lines, or else I just imagined one. I think this theory is incredibly clever, but I don’t think that it has that much to do with my esteem for Don Quixote the character. I am probably interested in what the character is doing now, in the present time of the narrative. And here’s another thought: it’s the little things in life that are really important, like whether a person in a book has cheated on his taxes or what kind of towel he likes. Those conventionally realistic novels where the distant past of a character is always adduced as an explanation for his or her brokenness, those are novels overly afflicted with a psychotherapeutic paradigm, with ego psychology, and, I suspect, they are formulaic.

But, as I say, I didn’t write Hotels of North America; Reg wrote it himself. Before he vanished.

Rumpus: Hotels are, in a lot of ways, nondescript by design. They’re places in which any evidence of our ever having been there is supposed to be erased. I’m wondering why someone would paint his self-portrait onto what I imagine must be the most blank of canvases.

Moody: Everybody lives in hotels, at least part of the time, so everybody has a life in hotels. There are tremendous rewards to the cookie-cutter design of hotels in the world of transnational capitalism: nothing is required of you, and you can, within reason, do whatever you want within those four walls. Without anxiety. In some ways, the post-industrial millennial economy uses the anonymity of the hotel room as its model for all of its seductions. Each franchise is like each other franchise, and they are the same from coast to coast, and sometimes even abroad. Where is the human part of all this? Where in all this franchising is the human being, the messy, unpredictable, garish humanity? Human consciousness is an eruption against the stultifying sameness of hotel life. Reg claims that he got into reviewing hotels for the money, but I think his prose indicates that there is something emotional about hotel reviewing for him, and I imagine the locus of this grand passion is in the way in which a person can project, in these dark times, a little bit of self onto the blank canvas you refer to. Hotels, by virtue of the negation of the individual, are where the individual thrives.

Rumpus: There is a convention in epistolary novels in which the first-person writer seems increasingly odd or cagey until he or she lets something slip and—boom!—the whole novel up until that point is recast in a different light. There is definitely something satisfying in that, but also rather constructed. Hotels of North America doesn’t exactly adhere to that convention.

Moody: I’m looking in vain for the question mark in this paragraph, and failing to locate it! But I note with interest your allusion to the epistolary novel. Which do you have in mind? Richardson, perhaps? My theory has always been that the anti-realist and artificial qualities of the novel are actually baked in from its earliest iterations. And while it is routine to consider that the epistolary novels are the first novels, the further back I go in reading the classics (recently I have been reading The Canterbury Tales, which is very novelistic, despite mostly being written in verse), the further back the slightly artificial (and frequently very funny) novel seems to go. By using the word “constructed” I think you are putting your finger on the fact that the novel is always constructed, in this way, always artificial, and I am with you there. By the way, the novel is never more constructed and artificial than in North American naturalist fiction. My god, that shit is fake. It’s the same fake shit over and over and over and over again. The epiphanies are fake, the sympathetic humanism is fake, and I’ve heard it all before. Building in a little seventeenth-century tragicomic apparatus seems to me a procedurally consonant with where the novel actually comes from. It would be more honorable, more truthful, more accurate, to be more artificial, more constructed, more dishonest in the novel. That is how the novel used to be. In this regard, it’s worth pointing out the intense vacuity of David Shields’s Reality Hunger idea that literature needs somehow to be more truthful. I think it needs to lie a whole lot more. In really incendiary and ill-behaved ways. (And David Shields is my friend, and I have already carped to him about this, so I’m not saying anything I haven’t said before.) I’m not even sure what truth means, literarily speaking, and so I would treat the whole idea of nonfiction very gingerly, as though it’s highly radioactive.

Rumpus: Are there any recent (or not so recent) works of literature that have, like you say literature needs to do, lied in incendiary and ill-behaved ways? Who comes immediately to my mind is James Frey, though his are sort of garden variety lies. I mean lying to make oneself more interesting is pretty damn common. I also think of Elena Ferrante, who certainly isn’t lying though she is omitting facts that authors typically divulge.

Moody: Well, I think you are trying to exploit the ostensibly true here, in order to find the great liars. But I think the great liars are on the fiction side of things, and they just need to be greater liars still. I would say Hilary Mantel is a really tremendous liar, because she is able to make historical fiction alive with character and drama, when mostly it’s just a research-heavy snooze. I think Sam Lipsyte is a really great liar. He could make you believe anything, just about. If he came to your house and tried to get you to purchase a copy of Dianetics, you would probably purchase that copy of Dianetics. By being a great liar, in this context, I am meaning be a great artificer, a person who delights in imagination, who feels no need to recreate reality as it is. A person who can imagine a language, and a way to use it. Hybrids, myths, legends, unmade worlds, all of those kinds of lies, are more delightful than a fiction that owes some fealty to the merely factual.

Rumpus: Reginald’s writings have obviously impacted the both of us. They will doubtlessly impact many others when the book comes out. As someone who has experienced substantial literary notoriety and fame, would you counsel Reginald to come out of hiding?

Moody: Do you know, Ryan, that I’ve noticed the Reg Morse also uses “impact” as a verb in the way you have done in this question? You have that in common with him! That’s a very interesting coincidence. I personally avoid that usage, but you and Reg both use “impact” that way (and I believe it is commonly accepted these days), and therefore it is, you know, possible that you are Reg. And if you are, you are probably better equipped to answer this question than I am. It’s interesting to learn that I have experienced “substantial literary notoriety and fame,” as I can’t remember so much of that. I think if Reg is really Reg, and I certainly hope this is the case (because if he’s you then this interview is very fucked up), that he should bask in any appreciation that comes during the publication time that is about to be upon us. The only good thing about publication, in my experience, is the part where you get to meet some readers who actually like what you do. Going out to the stores, a little bit, and meeting some readers, that is a great blessing, in an otherwise solitary line of work. It’s funny, now that you mention it, that as the guy who wrote the afterword I am getting to bask a little bit in Morse’s reflected glory. Soak up a little of his readership. I urge him to come out and feel the love himself a little bit. Unless he’s the guy who also wrote that recent self-published book that is being attributed to Thomas Pynchon. If he wrote that, he should stay in hiding for a few more years.

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Author photo © Laurel Nakadate.


Ryan Krull teaches at the University of Missouri–St. Louis and is a reader for Boulevard magazine. More from this author →