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'Hotels of North America' Chronicles Life By Hotel Reviews


How do you document your memories - birthday pictures, scrapbooks? How about marking each stay in a hotel? The Motel 6 you stayed in with your mom when your parents had a fight, the Radisson you pulled into on your way to college, the Days Inn you lived in when you lost your job. Rick Moody has written a new novel exploring a fictional life through hotels.

RICK MOODY: (Reading) What is it we really want from hotel life? We want the closest thing we can get to home. We want a reminder that home exists, that place you can come back to after a long, inadvisable journey where they are, in theory, happy to see you, a place where the pillow awaits the impression of your head, a place where, when you step in out of the rain, you breathe a sigh of relief.

MARTIN: His book is called "Hotels Of North America." And it tells the somewhat bizarre and entertaining story of an online hotel reviewer named Reginald E. Morse. Rick Moody told me he came up with this unusual idea for the book during a hotel stay of his own.

MOODY: I went with my wife to stay in Bergen, Norway on the dime of a certain arts institution there. And we were put up in a hotel of such flagrant awfulness.

MARTIN: (Laughter).

MOODY: In which every possible thing you can imagine would go wrong went wrong down, down to the weekend house music raves until 4 a.m.. Everything about it was so awful that all I could think to do was review the hotel.

MARTIN: (Laughter).

MOODY: And upon doing it, I thought, why shouldn't I just make my novel out of this?

MARTIN: The book is written in the voice of an online hotel reviewer. He's named Reginald Edward Morse. Can you give us just the sketch of who this man is?

MOODY: I think of Reg as one of those middle-aged guys who came out of the Great Recession in very bad circumstances. So he searches around for a great number of sideline gigs, self-declared positions like motivational speaker and investment adviser, consultant guy. And among these, the one that sort of seems to turn out best for him somehow is piecemeal hotel reviewer for this online website.

MARTIN: Besides just chronicling his life, what is he working out on these pages through these reviews?

MOODY: Where he came from, to some extent. I mean, he's a little bit mysterious about his origins. But he does remark on staying at The Plaza when he was a young boy. And we learn something about his past. And we also learned a lot about romantic longing. So I think his failed marriage and his final attempt to sort of put it all together romantically with a certain woman called Kay (ph) is the, I think, main topic of his reviewing life.

MARTIN: Let's get into some of these reviews. Can you tell us about the Gateway Hotel in Saratoga Springs? Where is Reginald at this point in his life?

MOODY: Well, he's with Kay - newly so. And he sort of convinced her that they should go to Saratoga Springs to see the horses race. So they go to the Gateway, falling-down, single-story motor-court style independent motel. And they go in and engage in a time-honored hotel, get-the-price-lower-somehow technique of planting cockroaches in the room.

MARTIN: So I did not know this is time-honored. I mean - really? (laughter) - people do this?

MOODY: It's a certain set of people, Rachel. You're lucky you don't know them too well.

MARTIN: (Laughter). Did you know his story when you sat down to put this thing together, to construct it? Did you know all the parts of his biography? Because it's not put together linearly.

MOODY: No, I discovered Reg. And really what I did was I discovered his voice. You know, and once I felt I could hear his voice, he sort of proposed the order in which he would make himself vulnerable and open. He's sort of more of a real person to me than anyone else I've written. And it's my 12th book.

MARTIN: Why do you think that's the case? Why is this character connected with you in a different way?

MOODY: Maybe I'm old enough now to make character really drive the work. You know, when I was writing in an earlier point in my career - in "The Ice Storm," for example, I was really thinking about time epoch, you know, politics, sociology. But in this book, I started with this guy. That was the thing I had. And I didn't really know where he was going to go, but I loved him in a way. I loved his vulnerability and his, you know, weakness.

MARTIN: Rick Moody, his new novel "Hotels Of North America." He joined us from our studios in New York. Thanks so much, Rick.

MOODY: Thanks for having me. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.