In Praise of Ted Mooney, Part 3: Traffic and Laughter

You’re well into Ted Mooney’s second novel, Traffic and Laughter (1988), before you realize that its world, which feels so familiar, isn’t ours. The time is the mid 1980s; the post-WWII babies are in their 30s. But only now has the atom been split and the A-bomb invented. Diplomats from Germany, the US, and the unrecognized state of Azania in Southern Africa are brokering a deal about when and where to test this weapon. Meanwhile, the daughters of the US and Azanian diplomats, Sylvia and Nomanzi, meet and form their own alliance in Los Angeles. Various mysteries and muddles featuring a jilted fiancé, green sedan, car wash shoot-out, samurai sword, immobility artist, single diamond earring, arms trafficking and an interrupted wedding culminate in the production of a movie based on the Great Infatuation, a bizarre event in the history of the African Xhosa people.

“To trust and not to know, to know and not to trust –”(222)

In Easy Travel to Other Planets, when Nicole deceives Diego, Jeffery considers that her “well-placed lie” “could cause multiple fractures in the bones of everyone who happened to be standing around it” (87). In Traffic and Laughter, lies compound betrayals and deceptions multiply. Its epigraph, “If it were not true, I would have told you,” an allusion to John 14:2, is recalled by a narrative voice that insists the story being told is true (4, 143, 261, 388).

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In Praise of Ted Mooney, Part 2: A World Like Our Own, But Not Quite

In my previous post, I mentioned a few of the ways in which the world depicted in Ted Mooney’s Easy Travel to Other Planets differs from ours. One of these, a new illness called “information sickness,” has captured more critical attention than any other facet of the novel, including Melissa’s romance with the dolphin Peter. In fact, if you search for articles about the book, allusions to information sickness as prophetic for its time (1981) is nearly all you’ll find.

While information sickness and the colonization of Antarctica are details in Easy Travel, in Mooney’s second novel, Traffic and Laughter (1988), the most striking difference is central to the story: the United States did not detonate an atomic bomb at the end of World War II. We know the war was fought because one of the lead characters, Michael, is designing the special effects for a movie set in the Pacific theatre. trinity

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