MELISSA BLOCK, host:
Writer Rick Moody has a new offering called "Right Livelihoods." It's a collection of three novellas. And our reviewer, Alan Cheuse, says it's some of the best short fiction of the year.
ALAN CHEUSE: Moody's title novella "Omega Force" mimics that of a cheap paperback thriller, which Dr. Van Deusen, the main character - a retired government official drying out in an exclusive New England hideaway - has picked up as he awakes after a night of brain-numbing boozing.
The story comes to us in the former bureaucrat's slightly off key, somewhat stilted voice, but works all the better for it.
"K & K," the second novella, portrays another mind in decline, that of an office manager at a small Connecticut insurance firm, a woman unloved and unlovable who's trying to find the source of some nasty notes in the company suggestion box. Compelling, yes. But this piece actually gives us the smallest payoff in the collection.
"The Albertine Notes," the third and final novella, more that makes up for the middle of the book slump.
In the wake of a dirty bomb attack on lower Manhattan, city residents by the millions rapidly become addicted to a new drug called Albertine. A Chinese-American freelance writer named Kevin Lee tells the story of the rise of the powerful drug, which heightens brain function even as it destroys memory in a tsunami of recollection.
The closer Lee gets to the main drug dealer, the more entangled he becomes in a major hallucinogenic conspiracy, as do we.
Albertine, Lee writes after he takes a dose, was like a soup of New York City neon. She was a catalog of demonic euphonies. And the memories that conjures up: It's the all-stars, he writes, laying down their groove and it's you dancing, chasing the desperations of the heart, chasing something that's so gone, so ephemeral, you know it only by its traces - how a certain plucked guitar string summons the thundering centuries, how a taste of fresh cherries calls up the indolent romancers on antebellum porches.
All these stories of the past rolling around in you, memories, the groove, the lie, the story you never get right, the better place.
Passages such as this make Rick Mooody's "Right Livelihoods" quite unforgettable.
BLOCK: Our reviewer Alan Cheuse teaches writing at George Mason University in Fairfax, Virginia. He's also a co-author of "Writer's Workshop in a Book."
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