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The Black Veil: A Memoir with Digressions Hardcover – May 1, 2002


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Product Details

  • Hardcover: 323 pages
  • Publisher: Little, Brown and Company; First Edition edition (May 2002)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0316578991
  • ISBN-13: 978-0316578998
  • Product Dimensions: 9.5 x 6.2 x 1.2 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 1.2 pounds
  • Average Customer Review: 3.5 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (33 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #2,600,450 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

Editorial Reviews

Amazon.com Review

Readers and critics of Rick Moody generally praise the long and lyrical sentences, sarcastic wit, and meandering asides typical of his misunderstood but sensitive protagonists. For Moody fans who have come to appreciate the Holden Caulfieldesque pathos beneath the sense of urgency and big vocabulary in books like The Ice Storm and Demonology, his memoir The Black Veil will offer more of the same. What's different, however, is that this time the protagonist is Moody himself. The book, subtitled A Memoir with Digressions, reads at times like a delicious essay collection outlining Moody's Connecticut childhood (complete with recipes for the perfect lobster roll and significance of the wax bean), and at times like a work of passionate literary criticism. But whether Moody discusses the impact of his parents' divorce, his alcoholic excesses in college and Manhattan, his time at an inpatient psychiatric unit, or his obvious passion for literature, his memoir does what so many current works in this genre do not: it shows the author looking beyond himself, through literature, to a world larger and more spiritual than the one in which he lives.

The titular black veil refers to a Hawthorne story (appended) about a New England minister Moody believes may be a relative. Moody's book is not so much about his quest to research the story of the black veil, despite the trek he makes to Maine to do just that, as it is the account of his personal relationship to that story. While die-hard Moody fans may find the book a surprising departure, those who want to know him more intimately will enjoy accompanying him on this personal and intellectual journey. --Jane Hodges

From Publishers Weekly

Moody's first foray into nonfiction is a curious amalgam of family history, literary criticism and recovery memoir. The title refers to Nathaniel Hawthorne's "The Minister's Black Veil," which, according to Moody, is based on the true tale of a Moody ancestor who wore a veil throughout his adult life as penance for accidentally killing his boyhood friend. Having this familial connection, Moody (The Ice Storm; Demonology; etc.) also links it to the sadness he experienced as an underpaid, overeducated 20-something searching for himself, first in San Francisco and later as a publishing assistant in New York. He alternates between explaining Hawthorne's story, describing trips to research his colonial-era paternal heritage and depicting how its legacy of apparent freakishness lives in him. In one bizarre episode, Moody confesses having had throughout much of his mid-20s a fear of being raped, an anxiety that eventually led to an alcoholic breakdown. Much of what Moody discovers in Maine graveyards, in old, coded diaries and in his delusions reinforces his own suspicions about a melancholic family inheritance. He's rarely straightforward, interweaving much of the book with occasionally cryptic passages by other authors, along with his own italicized commentary. This hybrid composition will surely enhance Moody's reputation as a thoughtful prose stylist, though he fends off the temptation of self indulging in the intense demands of self-scrutiny with an occasionally dry and strident tone. By the end of this daring experiment, it's clear that, even as the discoveries mount, forcing the veil of the past to fall away and revealing a sympathetic and sensitive man, Moody still hasn't managed to lose his angst.
Copyright 2002 Cahners Business Information, Inc.

More About the Author

I was born in NYC and raised in the CT suburbs. One of my grandfathers was a newspaper publisher and the other a small-town GM dealer. I figure this is a good lineage for a writer. I went to school in Rhode Island, where I worked with some really interesting people, like Angela Carter and John Hawkes. And then I got my MFA from Columbia University in NYC. After school I worked in book publishing in New York, during some lean times. My first novel came out in 1992. Since then, I've been writing mostly. I teach now and then. I got married in 2003, to my girlfriend of many years, Amy. She's working on her MA in decorative arts history. We split our time between Brooklyn and a little island off the coast of CT.

Customer Reviews

It's not a pretty book, and it's not an easy book.
jet houssman
Sure it's self-indulgent and a bit formless, but the whole point of memoir is to indulge the self a bit and see what happens.
Matthew F Desmond
I often found it tedious reading and was anxious for it to end, however in retrospect the book did stick with me.
Arlee Bird

Most Helpful Customer Reviews

9 of 9 people found the following review helpful By A Customer on January 15, 2003
Format: Hardcover
This book takes a little while to work its spell on the reader, as Moody gradually earns our belief in the relationship between his own experiences of depression, guilt and grief and his historical, American inheritance -- a legacy of Calvinist self-laceration, certainty of the inherently sinful nature of the human soul, and, most damning of all, our ferocious history of the destruction of native peoples, a taint that seems to have settled deep into the psyche of the land. I'm amazed that the book has been accused of being narcissistic and self-absorbed. In fact, it seems to want to offer a corrective to what can sometimes be a narrowness in contemporary memoir; it wants above all to link the speaker's spiritual and emotional condition to his culture, his history, his family, to find it source in the blood and soil and genes. It's a brave, convincing attempt, and ultimately the image of the veil haunts and troubles, persisting in the mind long after one's closed the book. THE BLACK VEIL is formally ambitious, fiercely self-aware, and it provokes the reader to examine the troubled legacy of American history. I think this is one of the most surprising, riveting memoirs to come along in a long time.
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21 of 27 people found the following review helpful By A Customer on May 12, 2002
Format: Hardcover
i'm astonished by the initial disparagements of rick moody's new book, and the alacrity with which readers peg him as self-absorbed, full-of-angst, &c. he's neither of those things; The Black Veil strikes me as a work of tremendous bravery and honesty. most moving for me are the implications of the book's genealogical project, which sort of extraordinarily problematizes precisely the sort of isolated self-interest of which moody is so weirdly accused. the book seeks to imagine a relation between not just one generation and its immediate antecedent, or one generation and antecedent centuries previous, but a relation between one person and a world which itself exceeds this straightforward mode of narrative time. this, as an art, seems at once both ancient (one could say, with an ear toward the old testament, almost biblical) and unrecognizably new-- hence, perhaps, so few people knowing what to do with this work. the black veil takes the individual person as a point of departure for a new conception of self and interrelation which seems a challenge to both readers and other writers alike. this is no more an ordinary memoir than it's an ordinary genealogy, than it's an ordinary digression. the book, in its local (predictably exquisite) details (e.g. some of the most sensitive descriptions of the Maine landscape since Jewett), and more importantly, its larger outline, is an act of love-- tho a love provocative (and radically ethical, and daring) in its glimmering unfamiliarity. read it read it read it read it read it.
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4 of 4 people found the following review helpful By Gabriel Murray on August 9, 2003
Format: Hardcover
The "digressions" part of the subtitle primarily refers to the fact that this is not only a memoir but also a sort of family genealogy, or an attempt at one. Moody finds that he may be the descendant of a Reverend Moody who was fictionalized as the title character of Nathaniel Hawthorne's "The Minister's Black Veil." Digging through obscure histories and travelling about New England in an attempt to find out more about the man behind Hawthorne's self-loathing minister, Moody creates a sense of very powerful parallels to his own struggles with severe depression and drugs. These sections alternate without Moody making explicit connections between the two stories, but the format keeps the pages turning and the reader intrigued.
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15 of 20 people found the following review helpful By A Customer on May 26, 2002
Format: Hardcover
"Every young man at some time or other wonders whether he can be a saleman. Almost every man, when he is young, daydreams about making a big sale." All in itlaics. This is typical Moody bombast and it is the main stuff of this so-called memoir, although one assumes that a memoir--even with digressions--is going to provde us with memories. Is this true? Do all boys want to be salesmen? Really. This is typical of Moody. Instead of writing deeply, with complexity, of life, he skims quickly; he provides grand statements, struggling to unite himself with the rock/drug /leterary world, with the wider world of pain. Perhaps he wanted to be a saleman so much he projected, and projects, outward that we all do. And what do salesman do? They present product to the world. They hawk. They bend the needs of the mark. The huge leap, and the sales pitch of The Black Veil, is the connection between Moody's life and Hawthorne's. A grand insecurity rides under all of his work. He is a classic grandiouse poser (see Robert Bly's Iron John for the type.) If you want good drug anguish, read Burroughs. Burroughs went deep into the dark and made art. Life is short. Read the real thing. When Moody turns to Burroughs in the book it becomes clear that his modus operandi is to drop the name of some hip figure, hold on to it for dear life. In a other forms, he did the same in his recent review of Neil Young's biography. Or his Details interview with Ethan Hawke. Moody is always the red hot center. See the intro to The Paris Review Book of Beat Writing. Examine it with care. Who is the central figure to that introduction? Not the Beats. Rick Moody. Here's another typical Moody line: "There was a writer who slew his own wife, in obscure circumstances." Why the world 'slew?Read more ›
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