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Purple America: A Novel Paperback – May 4, 1998

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Editorial Reviews Review

Purple America begins in a bathtub and ends in Long Island Sound. In between, Rick Moody's latest novel explores the landscape of a family in crisis. Dexter (Hex) Raitliffe, a freelance publicist, returns home to care for his mother, Billie, who is dying by inches of a neurological disease that will rob her of motion, of speech, and finally of thought. Billie's second husband has left her--a fact that Hex is unaware of until he comes home--and her only hope for assisted suicide lies in her son. Unfortunately, Hex is barely able to conduct his own life, much less take his mother's. Purple America takes place over the course of a single night; in that night, Hex gives his mother a bath, reconnects with an old love, gets drunk, and goes after his stepfather to confront him, with tragic results.

As Moody weaves his tale of this fateful Friday evening, he juxtaposes themes of aging, obsolescence, and physical decline with an accident at the nuclear power plant where his stepfather works. What lifts this novel above its rather depressing subject matter is Moody's unsentimental storytelling and the soaring language with which he gives his characters voice. Purple America is by turns lyrical, tragic, ferocious, and funny, and Rick Moody is a writer with a brilliant future ahead of him. --This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.

From Library Journal

The explosive cleavage of the atom and its attendant fallout provide the arch-metaphor for Moody's third novel. Billie Raitliffe, of Fenwick, Connecticut, suffers from a paralyzing neuralgic disorder and cannot care for herself. Younger husband Lou Sloane, a nuclear plant manager, has moved out, so she calls on her middle-aged, alcoholic son Dexter (Hex). The specter of Hex's father, a Manhattan Project scientist who died of radiation poisoning, hovers perceptibly over the proceedings. In a 36-hour span, Billie is injured, Hex consummates a lingering high school crush in a bizarre fashion, and Lou presides over a nuclear emergency the day of his forced early retirement. The events do not occur discretely but are part of a chain reaction Moody engineers in an atomic experiment. He renders his findings in vivid, intense, and often unpleasant detail, effectively reviving the nuclear threat and limning its symbolic and etymological resonance with domestic breakdown (half-life, decay) without denying the humanity of the characters or the centrality of the story. Despite the occasionally overwrought prose, Moody has redrawn the suburban landscape, as defined by Updike and Cheever. Fans of both will want to discover this new country.?Adam Mazmanian, "Library Journal"
Copyright 1997 Reed Business Information, Inc. --This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.

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Product Details

  • Paperback: 298 pages
  • Publisher: Back Bay Books; 1st Back Bay Pbk. Ed edition (May 4, 1998)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0316559776
  • ISBN-13: 978-0316559775
  • Product Dimensions: 5.5 x 0.9 x 8.2 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 9.6 ounces (View shipping rates and policies)
  • Average Customer Review: 4.0 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (45 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #1,150,799 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

More About the Author

I was born in NYC and raised in the CT suburbs. One of my grandfathers was a newspaper publisher and the other a small-town GM dealer. I figure this is a good lineage for a writer. I went to school in Rhode Island, where I worked with some really interesting people, like Angela Carter and John Hawkes. And then I got my MFA from Columbia University in NYC. After school I worked in book publishing in New York, during some lean times. My first novel came out in 1992. Since then, I've been writing mostly. I teach now and then. I got married in 2003, to my girlfriend of many years, Amy. She's working on her MA in decorative arts history. We split our time between Brooklyn and a little island off the coast of CT.

Customer Reviews

Most Helpful Customer Reviews

13 of 13 people found the following review helpful By Jake Mohan on September 26, 2001
Format: Paperback
Moody's prose reminds me more of old-timers like Updike, Steinbeck, and Salinger, than of his contemporaries. Why? Well, first of all, it's rich, layered, carefully plotted, crafted with care. Moody is patient; he's not worried about rushing to the end of a sentence, paragraph, or chapter just so he can execute a clever postmodern sleight-of-hand. He's more concerned with the process, the care that goes into describing a suburban backyard on an autumn night, or a crowded seafood restaurant. Postmodern prose jockeys who get off on wordplay, thwarted expectations, and other narratological trap doors might be disappointed with Moody. But I'd like to see more writers doing what Moody does: blending the best of the new and the best of the old.
Purple America is a shift away from the realm of most postmodern prose: hyper and seemingy directionless narratives, cultural subversion, deconstruction of character and narrative. As I see it, Moody shares only the best devices of his postmodern peers. Like them, he is a young writer bred on the postmodern literary climate, who knows hardly anything else. But he also realizes the worth of comparatively "conventional" twentieth-century forms as explored by writers like Salinger and his ilk. In Purple America, I feel he has blended the best of both almost seamlessly. He admits that it's still all right to write a story with no disorienting chronological jump cuts. It's all right to write a story where characters' life histories are fully divulged, from birth to death. It's all right to write a story where a terminally ambivalent man is worried sick about his dying mother.

The postmodern gestures are still there, but they don't ruin the novel because they don't obscure the narrative.
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9 of 9 people found the following review helpful By Joshua S. Levy on May 23, 2000
Format: Paperback
... the language is tricky at times, and he likes to get into those categorical lists, which may come across as tangential wandering, but to me its quite brilliant. The first five or so pages count as probably among the best writing I have ever read. Very meditative, like an incantation, a style which resonates throughout the book. I guess the only reason I'm writing this review is becasue this book needs to be read and studied; not enough people recognize its beauty. It's easy to read it quickly and not let it get to you. Read it slowly. A great improvement over Garden State, I think, and just as if not more satsifying than The Ice Storm. Please read it.
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6 of 6 people found the following review helpful By John Crutcher on December 3, 1999
Format: Paperback
Moody took on a huge challenge in building a book around a character without any obvious appeal and in a dark milieu. He manages the challenge brilliantly and has written one of the best novels I've read in years. I noticed another customer questioned the comparison to Cheever that some reveiwers have made. I think it is a very apt comparison, to all of Cheever's work, but especially to FALCONER.
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4 of 4 people found the following review helpful By E. Kutinsky on February 21, 2006
Format: Paperback
There are a number of valid complaints to make about the rigmarole that characterizes Rick Moody's distinctive type of writing - it's long-winded, it's morose, it's prone to sometimes arbitrary shifts into italics. Yet after finishing Purple America in record time, I realize that Moody's baroque and intricate hyperacute sense of detail and syntax (its 298 pages cover barely 12 hours) allows for an incredibly close understanding of his characters' consciousness, and leads to an experience of such precise sensory understanding, it transcends simple ideas of setting and location - it fully and specifically inhabits a life. It also, amongst all the Moody works I've read, renders his love of italics in the clearest light - each phrase hammering home the notion of phrases and words repeated in public consciousness, rendering the way voices, echoes, and ideas become essential in the formation of thoughts, emotions, and identity. Purple America seems destined for a few possible outcomes, and for a while you feel yourself inching closer to them, only to be thwarted, leaving certain threads dangling - a choice frustrating to be certain, but in the most rewarding way - you'll be left to agonize over Moody's precision of ideas and circumstances, tiny details leading to any number of enormous everyday outcomes. His final image of Hex Raitliffe is far from conclusive, but it is unshakeable, a precarious desperation given vivid charge and dimension.
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4 of 4 people found the following review helpful By A Customer on October 28, 1998
Format: Paperback
Rick Moody's Purple America is a novel of suburbia, with a very '90s twist. All of the events in this book take place during one horrible evening, and include spousal abandonment, attempted euthanasia, kinky sex, drunken combat (and combative drunkenness), return home, and filial love (and duty). Despite the short time frame involved, the plot is not easy to summarize. The main character, Dexter ("Hex") Raitliffe, has returned home to care for his almost totally paralyzed (but mentally sharp) mother, Billie, who herself has been abandoned by her husband. Billie wants nothing more than to die, but her paralysis makes suicide impossible. Hence her plea to Hex to do the deed. Hex, enraged over Billie's abandonment, sets out to find (and punish?) the husband who abandoned Billie, in a night filled with peril and unexpected surprise. Moody is a daring writer. While told in the third person, each chapter assumes the point of view of a different character. Moody's sentences range from fragments to periods which would make Cicero swoon (the second sentence in the book is more than four pages long). In a lesser writer's hands, these devices would seem forced, or simply fail. Moody holds it all together, and creates a breathtaking novel. This book requires patience and careful attention, but rewards both greatly.
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