by Tim Apello & r & The Diviners by Rick Moody In Dale Peck's notorious New Republic nuking of Rick "The Worst Writer of His Generation" Moody, the hatchet man sniffed, "No doubt Moody is even now at work on a sprawling 'social novel' in the manner of The Corrections." Perhaps Moody's new novel arose at that very moment, a defiant spit gob in the face of Peck's windy detraction. It does have a bit in common with Jonathan Franzen's classic: a throbbing modern American canvas teeming with colorful send-ups of the way we neurotically live now.

But Franzen wasn't kidding, and Moody (The Ice Storm) mostly is. He tosses off hundreds of notions and characters in The Diviners, but the point is intellectual amusement, not social-novel sweep. Though his brain-damaged-POV passages are almost as bravura as Franzen's (including those of a drunk, an autistic child and a head-injury victim), he doesn't invite us to feel for them. He wants us only to revel in their cracked linguistic virtuosity and insightfully bent perceptions.

Franzen's central Corrections metaphor of rebuked hubris and painful self-knowledge was on the level. Moody's Diviners metaphor is just an extended, shaggy-dog gag: Diviners are dowsers, people who use quiveringly sensitive forked sticks to detect underground streams. Moody's demented-parent character, hallucinating about her diviner ancestors, has an irritable daughter, a Krispy Kreme addict known behind her back as "Minivan." The daughter, a distaff Harvey Weinstein, has a highbrow indie-film company that's producing a miniseries (called The Diviners) that somehow involves dowsers in Las Vegas.

The MacGuffin everybody's chasing in the book is the script to the miniseries, supposedly based on a potboiler by a famous hack novelist. But there is no such book, and there isn't even a script, just a treatment of the imaginary script from the imaginary novel.

Everybody's a fraud -- winging it, inventing their own version of The Diviners, dowsing for the next hit like water in the parched showbiz desert. Moody links this preposterously sprawling world via coincidences so outrageous they'd make Dickens blush.

The real point to this Hollywood spoof is its prose storm of confusion. Moody has wrought a mock masterpiece that exists strictly for riffs that go on shamelessly, for purple prose's majesty. Undeniably, The Diviners is fun to read -- often as much fun as Franzen, though without the gravitas. It's not a complicated, overwhelming feast like The Corrections, but it does induce a Krispy Kreme rush.

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