Purple America isn’t a book I’d read again, but it was worth reading once.
I have a strange fascination with books about small town suburban America with its picket fences and depressing diners and general air of stagnation, but when I actually read them I always realize it takes a gifted writer to prevent the dead air and dull humdrumness he describes from taking over. Don DeLillo succeeds at times in Underworld, but even his considerable skills weren’t enough to prevent White Noise from becoming one of those books I finished just for the sake of finishing.
Rick Moody writes well enough to save Purple America from the same fate as White Noise. There isn’t a lot in the book that lends itself well to excerpting, but here’s one passage.
“…Hex Raitliffe prays the Great American prayer, the American psalm, the prayer of infants, though to whom he prays is unclear – Anglican New Testament God of the church of his parents? Interdenominational and mostly secular god of his liberal arts education? More likely, as with his fellow Americans, he supplicates now to a provisionally devised personal deity, made up on the spot, reasonably all-powerful, completely generous, adapted from Hollywood and rock and roll and moonlight on water. He prays to this God, with burnt offering, G-g-get me out of this, get me out of this one fix, I’ll do anything.”
Unfortunately, although the last few chapters are among the best, there’s a fair amount of dreck in the middle which I skimmed over, and the biggest downfall of the book for me was that it never quite lived up to the promise of its incredible first chapter, which is somewhat in the same vein as the beginning of Dave Eggers’ A Heartbreaking Work Of Staggering Genius, except it expresses the same amount of unsentimental heartbreak a lot more concisely and unconventionally.
You can read the beginning of AHWOSG here, but unfortunately I can’t find online excerpts for Purple America. Go into a bookstore and read the first chapter. Seriously. It’s one of those passages I come across every now and then in books which painfully reminds me that I can’t write for shit. As I said, it’s just a pity the rest of the book doesn’t maintain that exceptional quality.