In the preface to Rick Moody’s new novel, one Greenway Davies, director of the fictitious North American Society of Hoteliers and Innkeepers, explains what we’re in for: a collection of reviews from a man named Reginald Edward Morse, one of the more esteemed contributors to RateYourLodging.com, a TripAdvisor-esque online hotel review site. Morse’s digressive, overly personal missives have attracted enough of a fan base, we’re told, to justify a print compilation of his reviews. The compilation is the novel at hand, which in the hands of a lesser writer could have come off as a precious gimmick. Instead, the premise serves as a fitting conceit for the story that Rick Moody aims to tell.
The tone of the Hotels of North America, established through Davies and continued through Morse, is perfect, employing the type of excessively formal and florid language common to those working in—and writing about—the hospitality industry. As we dive into Morse’s reviews, we are treated to an assortment of zany, debauched misadventures. A former securities trader turned motivational speaker, Morse spends his time on the road en route to one middling gig after another, and reviews every spot in which he lays his head. He writes of an evening spent sharing (unsolicited) financial advice with one of the Pet Shop Boys in a London hotel bar, a Valentine’s Day at a Rest Inn square in the middle of a methamphetamine-ravaged county, and an online chat with a male Filipino sex worker during a visit to an aged relative in a retirement home.
As Morse indulges in the sort of oversharing that’s become commonplace in the age of social media, his backstory takes shape, and with it his current unfortunate state. We find out about his failed marriage, his affair with a language arts instructor and his fraught relationship with a rather mysterious woman. The posts appear without any concern for chronology with a stream-of-consciousness spontaneity, resulting in some surprising connections between seemingly disparate events that could be confusing were it not for Moody’s gift for nimble transition, which brings a natural flow to the proceedings. An appraisal of the merits of different types of lock systems gives way, for example, to a recollection of a Romanian mugging; a bedbug infestation leads to a meditation on globalization:
Morse doesn’t limit his reviews strictly to hotels. Over the course of the novel, our hero spends nights in a colorful assortment of settings, among them an Ikea parking lot, a train station and a shuttered hardware emporium. Morse’s mangy affability helps to get him through these trying times, and Moody does a fine job of imbuing the intentionally verbose, lofty prose with an undercurrent of desperation and regret.
The book concludes with an afterword by Moody, now writing in his own voice. Though this section is a bit leading, he does manage to posit an intriguing fictional theory, and also to sum up the overarching themes of the work nicely:
The novel effectively explores the loneliness, isolation and false intimacy inherent in online relationships and the effects that they have on individuals and society as a whole. It also plays with the concept of identity in some meaningful ways. Hotels Of North America is, ultimately, a uniquely modern tale, and one that is beautifully told.