Mott the Hoople (novel)
|Media type||Print (Hardback & Paperback)|
|Pages||251 p. (hardcover edition)|
According to the 1966 review of the novel in Kirkus Reviews, "Hooples, to clear this up right at the beginning, 'make the whole game possible, Christmas Clubs especially, politics, advertising agencies, pay toilets, even popes and mystery novels.' Obviously they're squares and Mott, Norman Mott, is certainly not...."
Norman Mott is a misfit, a lazy rebel without a cause who dislikes work and borrows money from his girlfriend Sandra. Mott believes life is a "bad comic opera." In order to avoid real work, he engages in various scams and gambles.
Mott is a lousy gambler which means he must keep up his scams. His one virtue is his love for his handicapped brother, whom he tries to take care of in his fashion.
To evade the draft and avoid being sent to Vietnam, Mott keeps on the move. He becomes a ticket seller at a state fair where he becomes involved with the denizens of the freak show and engages in various con games. When drafted, he refuses to be inducted into the Army and is sentenced to prison.
After two years imprisonment, he is released. Back in the world, he considers becoming a "Hoople", marrying Sandra and getting a normal job. He takes offense with the preacher Smiley Harley Gurrey (modeled after Billy Graham) whose preaching has enthralled Sandra's mother and becomes determined to destroy his ministry.
The story opens with its protagonist, the overweight, lazy, yet fancifully imaginative Norman Mott driving into the town of Alegre to gamble and visit his girlfriend, the zaftig, blonde Sandra Patterson, at college. He attempts to make love to Sandra but is thwarted by her sexual repression at the hands of her mother, who is a disciple of the evangelist Reverend Smiley Harley Gurrey. Between her mother’s influence and the experience of being tricked into a sham marriage as a teenager, Sandra is so apprehensive about sex that she becomes extremely flatulent every time a man makes sexual advances to her.
Mott, facing the likelihood that he will soon serve a prison sentence for refusing to be drafted into the Vietnam War, borrows money from Sandra to gamble, hoping to raise the money to pay for his mentally handicapped twin brother, Paulie, to stay in a care facility while he is incarcerated. Despite his abhorrence of regular employment, after Mott loses his stake gambling at the casino, he finds work as a ticket-taker at a travelling amusement franchise, where he meets fellow hustler Frankie Pappas. The two become friends, despite Pappas’s tendency to rib Mott about his frog-like appearance (going so far as to nickname him Froggie).
Mott moves into the boardinghouse where Pappas lives. Among the other residents are Dolly, the star of a “midget revue” attached to the fair (who briefly becomes Mott’s lover) and Ulla, a German war bride and “accident faker” who repeatedly flirts with Mott, though he turns her down because he hates Germans. Mott and Pappas make the majority of their money by “clipping” admission tickets at the fair (that is, selling untorn tickets a second time and keeping the money themselves), only to lose a large part of their profit when Mott, entrusted with the money, is robbed on the final night of the carnival by Sherman Buxby, a fellow employee who had previously and unsuccessfully attempted to blackmail Mott. The next morning, Mott awakes massively hung over, only to find that he and Sandra have had sex while extremely intoxicated, effectively causing her to overcome her fear.
Mott spends the next year and a half in prison, represented by a single, one-paragraph letter from Mott to Sandra, in which he describes prison as comparable to working for a major corporation, except “here they don’t let you out at night.”
Released early from prison for good behavior, Mott, now addicted to tranquilizer pills (“Miltowns”, later known as Quaaludes) returns to New York. He wanders around the city, finding that his family’s former apartment has become a small brothel, and visiting Pappas, who now works for the Reverend Gurrey. Pappas has gotten Gurrey to back his scheme of a “Christian Aeronautical Mission” which involves using hot air balloons to drop Bibles behind the Iron Curtain. Ulla is also present, and after sleeping with Gurrey, tries to induce Mott to murder her by making anti-Semitic remarks and (falsely) telling him that she was a guard at the Ravensbrück concentration camp, but he does not.
Mott accompanies his friend Leroy Parker on a road trip through the southern U.S., where, as a black man and a white man travelling together, they repeatedly experience racist harassment. The two separate and Leroy proceeds to Mexico, while Mott joins Sandra’s family at their vacation home in Palm Beach. Both of Sandra’s parents are present, though they have long been divorced, as is Reverend Gurrey. While Ethel, Sandra’s mother, intensely dislikes Mott, he endears himself to her father, Spencer, by accidentally shooting Gurrey with birdshot at the Pattersons’ gun club.
Mott reluctantly accepts a job in Spencer’s chain of department stores, and asks Sandra to marry him. Mott dislikes the work but carries on with help from alcohol and tranquilizers. Pappas, too, discourages Mott from marrying Sandra, fearing that Mott will gain influence over Gurrey. Mott is invited to dinner with Sandra, Ethel, and Gurrey, where the latter two attempt to convert him to Christianity, insisting that they will prevent his marriage to Sandra if he does not. Mott then facetiously attempts to convert them to Judaism, and, finally angered as Gurrey begins to say grace, begins to recite a Hebrew prayer, realizing that “I had arrived as an atheist, but they had made me a Jew.”
When Ethel goes on a hunger strike to pressure Mott to convert, he goes to reason with her and ends up having sexual intercourse with her; she does not reveal this to Sandra. Visiting Spencer late one night, Mott inadvertently learns that he is a transvestite, which led to his and Ethel’s divorce.
Overwhelmed, Mott returns to work, only to injure himself in a manner that suggests stigmata, causing him to go on a rampage and trash sections of the store. On his way out, Mott realizes that he’s torn off his clothing, and replaces it with that of the nearest mannequin, which happens to be a ladies’ cocktail dress. Arriving home in a cab, he is met by Sandra and Ethel, who, assuming he is also a crossdresser, leaves in horror and takes Sandra with her.
The next day, Mott learns that Sandra is being made to accompany Ethel to the rally Gurrey is holding in Tulsa to promote his and Pappas’s Bible-drop stunt. Mott signs Paulie out of his care facility, apologizes to Spencer, and flies to Tulsa with Paulie to rescue Sandra. Upon arriving, Mott runs into Dolly and Ulla. He leaves Paulie with Dolly, and forgives Ulla, though he is forced to leave her in a terrified, near-catatonic state as the gathering is giving her flashbacks of Nazi rallies.
Mott, armed with photos he stole from Pappas of Gurrey and Ulla having intercourse, storms into the revival tent, confronts Pappas, and tries to leave with Sandra. As they flee the tent, Gurrey proclaims Mott to be a demon and orders the crowd to stop him. When Dolly and Paulie show up, the crowd mistakes Paulie for Mott, and Mott, unable to stop their frenzied attack, is separated from Sandra but makes his escape in one of Pappas’s hot air balloons.