Although Rick Moody makes no explicit mention of 9/11 in this collection of three smart novellas about suspicion in contemporary America, each story is a startling vision of how the war on terror is shaping American society by alienating citizens from each other and themselves. Last year, Moody told an interviewer that paranoia is ‘the disease of the age’. This book jangles with peculiar fear.
The eponymous novella is a work of savage irony. Dr Van Deusen is a retired government official, a pompous patriot flailing around in the fog of his own alcoholism on an obscure island off America’s East Coast. He tells his story in the form of an intelligence report, though it becomes clear his observations are unreliable. Van Deusen almost drowns on the beach while performing his ‘Dance of the Stick’ using driftwood to conduct the music in his head. The fisherman who saves him tells him he has seen mysterious ‘dark-complected persons’ at the airfield. Van Deusen believes that this is a glimpse into the ‘subliminal echelons’ of the world, ‘the region of government operations … where prisoners are occasionally forced to listen to popular music that is distasteful to them … This is the way it must be.’ He also believes that a lurid pulp thriller, Omega Force: Code White, is an actual warning.