When he published The Ice Storm in 1994, Rick Moody seemed to be looking for a workable compromise between suburban realism and what Gore Vidal once called the 'Research and Development' arm of American fiction - the tradition of Thomas Pynchon, Robert Coover, William Gaddis and Don DeLillo. That might not sound hard if you think of R&D as a matter of surface effects: pop-cultural references, metafictional gestures, glazed irony and so on. But for Moody (b.1961), as for Jonathan Franzen (b.1959) and David Foster Wallace (b.1962), the previous generation's experimentalism was as much a way of looking at society as a renovation of novelistic technique. Writers their grouchier teachers viewed as rebarbatively modish or futuristic struck them as fairly accurate prophets and critics of the image-saturated world they'd grown up in. And R&D seemed so squarely aligned with politico-cultural 'dissent' that any dilution of the avant-garde formula was troubling to contemplate - especially if you were both Theory-trained and, in Franzen's words, 'one of those skinny young men in scary glasses . . . who look like they possess massive amounts of data about small-label rock bands'.
LRB 23 February 2006 | PDF Download