Thursday, August 4, 2011

Shaking the Nickel Bush, by Ralph Moody


What a disappointing book! After four excellent entries--some of which were truly stellar--I can't believe the sudden drop-off in quality. Allow me to elaborate.


1) Lies, lies lies. Gone is the highly scrupulous Ralph Moody we came to know and love in earlier volumes. His desire to honor his father's passion for honesty, integrity, and forthrightness seems to have disappeared completely, and with no explanation whatsoever. He routinely lies to his mother throughout the book and doesn't object in the slightest when his traveling partner repeatedly steals chickens, "borrows" horses without asking, and otherwise makes free with the belongings of others. While it is certainly true that those raised to be honest sometimes waver in their devotion to the cause, Moody offers no explanation whatsoever for his sudden departure from his family's values.

2) The devil is in the details.
Much of this book is devoted to a painfully detailed account of Moody's travels across the back country of the southwest in a beat-up old Ford. Which would be fine, except he feels the need to explain each and every repair the car required--how they discovered it, what was broken, what they had to buy or fix, how much it cost, and so on. By the third or fourth breakdown, I wanted to scream "WE GET IT! The car is a pile of crap and you've spent way more than you should have to get her up and running. MOVE ON." But alas, there were yet more breakdowns to explain. In detail.

3) No end in sight. This is the big one. Early in the book, Moody throws his lot in with Lonnie, a cow hand he meets in Arizona. Throughout the bulk of the story, the reader wonders what kind of guy Lonnie will turn out to be. He screws things up and goes through money like water, but appears to be genuine in his desire to do right by Moody. Meanwhile, Moody has to constantly exercise patience with Lonnie, and ultimately ends up all but supporting Lonnie, financing his social life with money Moody earns--all Lonnie does is drive the car.

(As a side note, Moody's perpetual tolerance of Lonnie and his shenanigans was actually quite believable--with his family background, I buy that Moody would hate being alone and would put up with a lot to have a traveling buddy, no matter how annoying that buddy turned out to be.)

As I read this book, I wondered: Would Lonnie would redeem himself? Or would he screw things up royally? So in the final chapter, when Lonnie accidentally takes Ralph's pants--which have $700 secretly stashed in the cuffs (money Moody's been squirreling away throughout the book in the hope of buying some land in Colorado)--it seemed like a perfect opportunity to see if Lonnie would do right by Moody and track him down to return the money, or just make off with it and confirm himself as an ungrateful scoundrel.

Imagine my surprise when Moody goes in a completely different direction and . . . doesn't tell us anything about what happened to Lonnie, the money, or any of it. Instead, the book ends with him looking for Lonnie and feeling quite confident that good old absentminded Lonnie had no idea about the money and that Lonnie or his mom were bound to find it and return it. But we don't actually know that they do so. We don't know if Moody got his money back. So the mystery of the money and the mystery of Lonnie's character remain unresolved. And not in a "commentary on human naivete" or "the mystery is ongoing" sort of way. Moody is far too straightforward a writer for that. As far as he's concerned, that's the end of the story. It was at this point that I chucked the book across the room. After sticking it out through tedious descriptions of nuts and bolts and screws and tubes and oil and water and all the meals Moody made on the road ("this is how I cooked the chicken Lonnie stole," "this is how I made rice pudding," etc.), I was rewarded with . . . a fat lot of nothing. Story-telling FAIL.

There were other issues as well--Moody once again discovers that he is awesome at yet more things (stunt falls and--wait for it--sculpting, of all things), Moody discovers acquaintances who inexplicably assist him in his endeavors, etc. But those were minor issues compared to the three things discussed above. Moody's sudden change of character and lack of focus on serving and providing for others rendered him much less appealing than in previous volumes. Ultimately, this was a tedious story about two less-than-likable characters . . . with no actual ending or closure or anything.

I really hope the next one is better.

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