By Katy Goodwin-Bates
My exposure to hotel reviews is limited, I’ll admit. Notably, while researching accommodation in Memphis, I encountered one review written by a patron outraged by the fact that a shooting had taken place in a particular hotel’s carpark. It wasn’t during the reviewer’s stay and, crucially, the reviewer was neither the shooter nor the victim, but they were very upset about it nonetheless. As I recall, the review then somewhat undermined its own sense of moral indignation by complaining about the lack of confectionary on the pillows.
“How grateful I am that you guys have named me a top reviewer on this site! You and I are people conjoined by a belief in sincerity and by a basic agreement about what that means. I’m not going to say the hair dryer in the room didn’t scorch a hole in the wall if it did. That’s just who I am.” – page 67
Rick Moody’s Hotels of North America takes this Tripadvisor culture and uses it to spin a subtly touching story of 21st century isolation, fractured masculinity, and bedbugs. The novel takes as its subject the fictional hotel reviewer Reginald Edward Morse, a sometime motivational speaker and committed critic of rooms and receptions across the USA and beyond. An amusingly ingratiating introduction by the Director of the North American Society of Hoteliers and Innkeepers refers to “hotels hilarious, anonymous, opulent, modest, strange” (page 6), which are all adjectives which could just as easily be applied to Morse, with his idiosyncratic style of critique; hotel reviews which barely mention the hotels themselves in favor of personal reflections may not help you very much when booking a minibreak, but Moody crafts Morse’s rambles into something very entertaining and often lovely.
Something Hotels of North America accomplishes beautifully is conveying precisely how odd and often irritating hotels can be. Early on, Morse embarks on a two-page rant about the abundance and quality of complimentary cookies in hotel lobbies. Later, the displeasing invention of key-cards rather than traditional keys also receives a dressing-down. The most entertaining of these diatribes, for me, was one relating to why Morse hates bed-and-breakfast inns. The phrase “throw-pillow abuse” (page 175) is surely one which has not been used enough in the history of the English language. Morse complains that “there must be some kind of bed-and-breakfast trade association where the various owners get together and compete on how many throw pillows they have in their various rooms” (page 175). Sometimes I find myself nodding along to books because of intense political debate; on this occasion, I really related to this hatred of extraneous pillows.
“At one time, the bedbug was a class marker. It separated the wannabes from the dynasts. Power is not afraid of powerful insecticides. But these things no longer separate us, for we are all fallen into the abyss of bedbug-related chaos.” – page 171
The emotional resonance of Moody’s book will, for people who don’t experience night terrors about throw pillows, come from the reflections on Morse’s personal life, which make up the larger part of his reviews. With the reviews placed in non-chronological order, it takes some time to build up a picture of Morse’s chequered romantic past, with some hotel stays being shared with his former wife, some with a mysterious linguistics professor and the rest with K., a lover with whom he attempts numerous “cons” in accommodations across America. Moody employs subtle, but effective, stylistic techniques to differentiate between the varying chapters of Morse’s life, using a second-person narrative at times, presumably to show Morse’s desire to disassociate himself from certain less auspicious events. Morse’s responses to aggressive commenters who question both his reliability and his devotion to his daughter provide a more emotive prism through which to view the character, as well as an accurate reflection of the brave new world of “below the line” online warfare.
Stylistically, it’s a sophisticated novel, not least in Morse’s occasionally over-the-top vocabulary choices. A particular favorite sentence of mine–“If you were experiencing catecholaminergic polymorphic ventricular tachycardia, some flugelhorn soloing just might do the trick” (page 25)–provides a suitable example of Moody’s use of bathos in the construction of Reginald Morse’s strange psyche. I would, however, hasten to point out that the entire book doesn’t sound like this; that would make it basically unreadable, and that certainly isn’t a criticism you could level at this very entertaining novel.
when I first started Hotels of North America I wasn’t feeling it and had to restart it a few weeks later. I initially picked it up for my “just before bed” hour of reading, which was an error. The book is far too sophisticated to be appreciated when you’re too tired to actually hold it up, and deserves to be consumed after a solid night of sleep, possibly with a stimulating caffeine-rich beverage to hand. Once I’d resolved my scheduling situation, I enjoyed the book in a single sitting. My sole complaint lies with the slightly annoying Afterword, which I found unnecessary. Presenting Morse’s reviews as a “found” document works effectively enough without an additional section on establishing the authorship of these works, so I could have done without the final few pages.
I’m always eager to read a book written in a format that’s original and different, and I loved the way Rick Moody used the concept of the online review to craft such an interesting and entertaining narrative. Hotels of North America is an excellent vacation read, as long as you avoid the Presidents’ City Inn, Quincy, Massachusetts.
Hotels of North America is available now at GPL.