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'The Diviners': A Satire

MICHELE NORRIS, host:

Many moviegoers will remember the cinematic version of Rick Moody's novel "The Ice Storm." Moody's latest novel is "The Diviners." It's a satire about an independent movie company trying to produce a television miniseries based on a non-existent book. Alan Cheuse has a review.

ALAN CHEUSE reporting:

Means of Production is the name of the small New York-based movie company. It's headed by the hugely overweight Italian-American Vanessa Meandro, a genius of a woman with a delusionary mother and an addiction to Krispy Kreme doughnuts. And it's staffed by an ambitious and geeky and funny bunch of characters.

Desperate for ideas, a few of them cook up a delirious treatment for a miniseries about the origin of divining for water that begins with the hordes of Genghis Khan and carries us through medieval Europe and on to the days of the Nazis and eventually to our own shores. Overhearing Vanessa pitch the project over the telephone to the head of a television network is a delusionary five-page-long event in itself.

`Vanessa Meandro here with Means of Production. We're making the Otis Redding biopic that the studio over there is--right, that's the one. I'm calling today about thirst. That's right, thirst. I know it's a broad topic, but it's an urgent topic whether you know it or not, a topic that's at the heart of American entertainment today.' And on and on she rolls.

I'd love to read the whole thing to you with all of its pitch-perfect diction and speech rhythms, and read to you some of the other zany set pieces: the Santa Monica Botox party presided over by a weary pulp novelist; a Sikh cab driver from New Jersey, endlessly theorizing about the nature of television; and the major characters' viewing of the season's Thanksgiving episode of a TV series called "The Werewolves of Fairfield County."

But as episodic as I may be making this novel sound, I have to say that the book is carefully plotted with a tour de force of an opening, maybe the best opening of any American novel I've read in years.

NORRIS: The book is "The Diviners" by Rick Moody. Our reviewer Alan Cheuse teaches writing at George Mason University in Fairfax, Virginia.

This is NPR, National Public Radio. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

Alan Cheuse
Alan Cheuse died on July 31, 2015. He had been in a car accident in California earlier in the month. He was 75. Listen to NPR Special Correspondent Susan Stamburg's retrospective on his life and career.