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Purple America: A Novel Paperback – May 4, 1998

3.9 out of 5 stars 47 customer reviews

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Editorial Reviews

Amazon.com 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: 3.9 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (47 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #921,051 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

Customer Reviews

Top Customer Reviews

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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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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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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Format: Paperback
I hate it when an author makes it painfully obvious how much thought he put into certain things. Names, for instance. "Hex Raitliffe" Oh- I get it! "Hex", because he's unlucky and things go wrong! Not clever, and certainly not subtle.

Just one of the initial turn-offs, but the error sets the tone for the entire book. Many reviewers complain about lack of readability. That's because Rick Moody is very, very proud of his writing ability, and overdoes each sentence to death. Long, windy sentences with lots of colorful adjectives does not always make well-written prose. In fact, it rarely does.

The novel got so bogged down in its own ridiculous story that I not only lacked any sympathy with the characters, but felt like I was looking over the author's shoulder as he intended them. The attempts at humor, such as the lovemaking scene, just fell flat. I didn't even crack a smile throughout the entire read, which is pretty bad for a book that really, really wants to be funny.
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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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