Review of Right Livelihoods: Three Novellas by

Book cover for Right Livelihoods: Three Novellas

Sad to say that this book was almost painful to read. Rick Moody's character sketches are confusing and unnecessarily complicated. When I eventually manage to figure out what's going on, I usually don't like it, and I don't feel any reason to identify with the protagonist. None of the three novellas left me yearning for more. Worse still, none left me with the vaguest impression that I'd absorbed some sort of narrative. They mostly gave me a headache.

In "The Omega Force," the protagonist is a retired doctor who may-or-may-not be senile and who may-or-may-not be in the middle of a government/foreign conspiracy that may-or-may-not exist. As he spirals deeper into megalomania, only the reader is around to watch him give into his basest urges--to conduct an invisible orchestra via the "Dance of the Stick."

My trouble with "The Omega Force" stems from the lack of a focal point of conflict. Should I feel sorry for Dr. Van Deusen because he's delusional, and this is causing trouble for his marriage and his relationship with his son? Should I feel tense because no one will believe him about the convoluted conspiracy only he thinks he has discovered?

The second novella, "K & K", is the only one told from a third person perspective. It's third person limited, though, so we're still treated to the thoughts of the deranged main character. I actually liked the story at the beginning; I thought it would be a delightful descent into officeplace humour--who's stuffing the suggestion box?! Ultimately, however, Moody treats us to a postmodernist ending that takes all of the delight out of deduction (not that he had put much in there in the first place).

"The Albertine Notes" was perhaps the best novella of the three, but I won't go so far as to say it was good or even great. The concept of a memory recall-enhancing drug that actually allows one to change the past through quantum indeterminacy is intriguing, for sure. Unfortunately, the use of the first person perspective meant we experienced everything from a drug addict's point of view. While that was interesting, it was also confusing. Time travel and quantum theory is confusing enough when you don't have drugs involved. And while I realize I'm disregarding the fact that "The Albertine Notes" has, buried deep within it, the skeleton of a profound theme, that's only because the narrative was confusing enough that I lost the thread of the theme every time it surfaced for air.

I'm not going to apologize if it turns out that these were incredibly simple and their points just managed to fly over my head. It's not that I dislike having to work to comprehend a story's point. I trudged through The Name of the Rose one page at a time--and I loved it. On the other hand, Right Livelihoods was not enjoyable. The book's cover copy says, "Only Rick Moody could lead us to feel affection for the misguided, earnestly striving characters in this alternately unsettling and warm, always remarkable trio of novellas." I don't feel that affection? In fact, looking back at many of my reviews, a lack of sympathy for the main character seems to be one of my most common complaints. Am I actually a sociopath? If so, and it's this book that finally made me realize it, what does that mean?

If I ever write a long, confusingly-narrated novella about it, I'll let you know....

Engagement

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