When Mary Karr jump-started the current memoir boom in the mid-nineties
with her feisty The Liar's Club, the self-appointed sentinels of
Literature cried foul, deriding Memoir as a lesser art form. Karr shot back,
pointing out that the sonnet "was seen as really low rent at one time
among poets because it didn't have the sweep of an epic." The novel,
as well, was once seen as morally reprehensible because it was "just
fancy, sprung from someone's head." The only genuine criterion by which
to judge a work, fiction or nonfiction, is quality. Period. How well does
the work do what a piece of art should: help us to see who we are, as well
as who we might be. Using this criterion, Rick Moody's memoir, The Black
Veil, is one of the most significant works published in 2002. Though
ostensibly a harrowing account of dependency and depression, an obsessive's
investigation of family genealogy, not to mention a small slice of literary
history (Moody may be descended from "Handkerchief Moody" who
was the inspiration for Hawthorne's short story "The Minister's Black
Veil"), Moody's self-reflections reach much deeper than his personal
story. Delving deep into the anguished idiosyncrasies of his own history,
our "seer of alienation" unearths the peculiar paradoxes that
underlie the American character.
Synopses & Reviews
While still in his twenties, Rick Moody found that a decade of alcohol, drugs, and other indulgences had left him stranded in a depression so severe that he feared for his life. The road of excess led, for him, not to the palace of wisdom but rather to a psychiatric hospital in one of New York's least exalted boroughs.
The Black Veil is Rick Moody's account of that debilitating passage in his life. It is the powerfully written story of a mind unraveling, and of how it feels when the underpinnings of life fall away. The anxieties of early adulthood, of first finding a place in the world the weight placed upon that first relationship, first job, first apartment are presented here with enormous sympathy. Anyone who has ever felt his or her own psychological footing slip, even briefly, will find Moody's account of his breakdown and return both harrowing and heartbreaking.
At the same time, The Black Veil is an astonishing exploration of guilt, blame, the public face, and the very idea of self. Looking for clues to his lifelong sense of melancholy and shame, and recognizing signs of this same condition in his family's paternal line, Moody embarked on a search for its origins. This quest begins with fathers ("Fathers refold maps, fathers like to appear as though they have infallible knowledge of direct routes between any two points") and grandfathers ("The idea here is that you have to do the heavy lifting first"). It ventures through stone quarries in Connecticut, among mossy tombstones in Maine, into the coded diary of a tormented Puritan minister, and into the life and writings of Nathaniel Hawthorne. In these and dozens of other places, Moody finds gleaming pieces of the past, and he weaves of them an inspired portrait of what it means to be young and confused, older and confused, guilty, lost, and finally healed.
Funny, sad, and blazingly inventive, The Black Veil is another work of audacious originality by one of the most thoughtful writers of our time.
"In this journey beyond addiction and recovery, back through family memories and taller ancestral tales into the deeper mysteries of that American disorder for which no program of cure yet exists, Rick Moody, writing with boldness, humor, generosity of spirit, and a welcome sense of wrath, takes the art of the memoir an important step into its future." Thomas Pynchon, author of Gravity's Rainbow
"From the beginning, the history of America has been a Hawthornesque narrative of moral weakness, gallows humor and the haunted wilderness of human relations. It's Moody's genius to show, with a unique blend of wrenching emotion and intellectual playfulness, how the great black tale of our national history is reflected in the narrative of his own lifeand of that of all contemporary Americans."
Michael Chabon, Pulitzer Prize winning author of The Amazing Adventures of Kavalier & Clay and Wonder Boys
"Moody (The Ice Storm, Demonology) has artfully crafted a genre-breaking standout that interweaves literary criticism and family myths with his own recovery from addiction and depression." Library Journal
"Moody's first foray into nonfiction is a curious amalgam of family history, literary criticism and recovery memoir....This hybrid composition will surely enhance Moody's reputation as a thoughtful prose stylist." Publishers Weekly
"Novelist Moody (Demonology) reveals an inspired but not pretty picture of his life....Where he got the focus to write through all this is a wonder, though he sure had plenty of material on death, defeat, and dehumanization to work with." Kirkus Reviews
"The Black Veil offers the Jamesian 'figure in the carpet' glimpsed from the verso, all rough weave and stitches. Moody makes almost no mention of the attainments of his life there is almost nothing about the drive toward writing, the literary obsession that has made him something of a generational prodigy, nothing really but the riveting epileptic convulsions of a soul in extremis, a life he views as blackened at its very root by 'brutality, bloodthirstiness, and murder' not just his, or his family's, either, but as he is at pains to tell us in the closing lines of the book ours as well." Sven Birkerts, Esquire (read the entire Esquire review)
"Rick Moody is the worst writer of his generation.
I apologize for the abruptness of this declaration, its lack of nuance, of any meaning besides the intuitive; but as I made my way through Moody's oeuvre during the past few months I was unable to come up with any other starting point for a consideration of his accomplishment. Or, more accurately, every other starting point that I tried felt disingenuous, nothing more than a way of setting Moody up in order to knock him down. One of those starting points was this: 'Rick Moody is a lot of things, but he is not actually dumb.' This was an attempt at charity, and though I still think that it's true enough, I don't think that it matters; at any rate, his intelligence does not make up for the badness of his books." Dale Peck, The New Republic (read the entire New Republic review)
In this searing, brilliantly acclaimed memoir, one of the most admired writers of his generation reveals how a decade of alcohol, drugs, and other indulgences led him not to the palace of wisdom but to a psychiatric hospital in one of New York's less exalted boroughs.
In this astonishingly inventive book, Moody tells the story of his collapse and recovery in an inspired journey through what it means to be young and confused, older and confused, guilty, lost, and healed.
In his early 20s, a lifetime of excess left Rick Moody suddenly stranded in a depression so profound that he feared for his life. A stay in a psychiatric hospital was just the first step out of mental illness. In this astonishingly inventive book, Moody tells the story of his collapse and recovery in an inspired journey through what it means to be young and confused, older and confused, guilty, lost, and healed.
Woven through his own story, Moody also traces his family's paternal line, looking for clues to his own melancholy -- in particular to one ancestor, Reverend Joseph Moody, about whom Nathaniel Hawthorne wrote an archetypal story of shame called The Minister's Black Veil. In a brilliant display that is no less than a literary tour de force, Moody ties past and present, family legend, and serious scholarship into a book that will draw comparisons not just to recent memoirs by Dave Eggers and Martin Amis but to forebears like Nabokov's Speak, Memory.
About the Author
Rick Moody is the author of Demonology, Purple America, The Ring of Brightest Angels Around Heaven, The Ice Storm, and Garden State, which won the Pushcart Press Editor's Choice Award. He is a past recipient of the Addison Metcalf Award and a Guggenheim Fellowship. He lives in New York.