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.
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