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33 Reviews
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9 of 9 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars intelligent, brave and compelling
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...
Published on January 15, 2003

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15 of 20 people found the following review helpful
1.0 out of 5 stars Shameless Self Promotion/Cover with Black Veil
"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...
Published on May 26, 2002


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9 of 9 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars intelligent, brave and compelling, January 15, 2003
By A Customer
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
5.0 out of 5 stars bracket the naysayers-- this is a gorgeous, important book, May 12, 2002
By A Customer
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
4.0 out of 5 stars interesting departure for Moody, August 9, 2003
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
1.0 out of 5 stars Shameless Self Promotion/Cover with Black Veil, May 26, 2002
By A Customer
"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?' Does it lend the sentence a deeper feel--a grander sound? Does it force the sentence into the literary. This is standard Moody. Avoid the clear, the hard, the truthful, the work involved in making art. Write six books in six years. Who falls for these stunts? Many reviewers, and young readers. But in this, his first non-fiction book, it was impossible to turn away from his method. Kakutani's review in the Times was dead-on. The anger you hear is the sound of good writers being ignored.
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1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Neglected Literary Classic Destined to Be Remembered Along With "Angela's Ashes", January 11, 2012
This review is from: The Black Veil: A Memoir with Digressions (Paperback)
With "The Black Veil", Rick Moody has written a brilliantly realized memoir which I suspect will one day be remembered as well as Frank McCourt's "Angela's Ashes". Indeed there are many passages throughout "The Black Veil" which rank alongside "Angela's Ashes" for their elegant literary quality. If some readers - and I might add, book reviewers such as the infamous Dale Peck - have been frustrated with "The Black Veil", then I suspect it may be that Rick hasn't written nearly as engrossing a tale of survival as the one depicted by Frank in "Angela's Ashes". It also probably has hurt Rick that he has told his tale in a nonlinear fashion, jumping to and fro between various points from his childhood to early adulthood, while trying to mingle successfully with his memoir, writing a thoughtful literary exploration of the Nathaniel Hawthorne short story "The Minister's Black Veil" (The entire story is reprinted in its entirety at the end of "The Black Veil".) and of his own biographical odyssey in search of Joseph "Handkerchief" Moody, the ancestor who inspired Hawthorne's short story.

Among the more memorable passages are those relating to Rick's mental collapse and rehabilitation in a psychiatric clinic in Hollis, Queens (a New York City neighborhood in the borough of Queens) back in 1987. Indeed, I might add that I found most refreshing his acknowledgement of personal flaws such as drinking which led to his hospitalization (This is in stark contrast to what I read in Frank McCourt's "Tis", in which I perceived - whether correctly or not - that Frank was more willing to blame others for his own problems rather than acknowledging his own responsibility.). I also found rather interesting his relationships with his brother, sister, parents and grandfather, though I shall note that none of these are nearly as memorable as the anecodotes which Frank recounts of himself and his brothers in the dirty lanes of Limerick in "Angela's Ashes".

Rick Moody has demonstrated in "The Black Veil", his novels and short stories that he is among the most interesting literary stylists of our time, and perhaps among the finest in our generation (Editorial Note: Rick and I were classmates in a fiction writing seminar in college taught by British feminist science fiction novelist and short story writer Angela Carter.). I suppose that's why I regard him as among my favorite authors, ranking behind the likes of William Gibson and Jonathan Lethem, in my personal list of twenty five favorite writers (And yes, of course Frank McCourt is on my list, though I will plead the fifth regarding his placement on it.).
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5 of 7 people found the following review helpful
2.0 out of 5 stars I wanted to enjoy it..., August 23, 2004
By 
B. PERKINS (Denton, TX United States) - See all my reviews
(REAL NAME)   
...and I did read the book from cover to cover. I was captivated by the interview that Moody did on NPR's Fresh Air and thought the book would offer more of the same. But where the radio interview offered an honest, intriguing look inward at depression and substance abuse, Moody's book was all over the place. The problem with the book wasn't so much a lack of restraint as a lack of any unifying theme.

I was fascinated by the premise of an author searching his family tree for clues to his own identity. Add to that Moody's writing style--dense, detailed, and intricately designed--and it certainly looked promising. I kept thinking that the ever-lengthening sentences, the eclectic array of allusions and references, and the somber subject matter would eventually pay off, but the book ended before this happened.

If this is starting to remind anyone of Faulkner, you're not far off; Moody's writing style has a lot in common with Faulkner on the surface. The two writers sound alike in a superficial way; however, where Faulkner eventually weaves his themes together in a way that is awe-inspiring, Moody just keeps on relating one esoteric (though well-worded) remembrance after another, with seemingly no reason for doing so.

I suppose all this could be easily explained away with the thought that this is a memoir, not a novel. Even so, by the book's end, I was desperately wishing someone had made free use of an editing pencil. It took a while to adjust to run-on sentences which composed entire paragraphs, which cover two and a half pages apiece. But near the end of the book, as Moody describes a visit to a rock quarry and then goes off on a purposeless tangent about concrete, I could no longer suspend my disbelief. The Black Veil may bill itself as a memoir, but it best serves the function of a journal--a place to jot down all the disparate ideas that need to be recorded, so they can be used to better effect later.
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3.0 out of 5 stars The Veil Lifted: Revealing a Memoir, July 5, 2011
By 
Arlee Bird (pico rivera, ca United States) - See all my reviews
This review is from: The Black Veil: A Memoir with Digressions (Paperback)
When one is handed a book by someone who states, "I want you to read this book to tell me what you think of it, I thought it was kind of weird--I got it for a dollar at the Dollar Tree store", then a red flag, perhaps combined with an impish chin stroking curiosity, might be one possible reaction. This was the case when my sister handed THE BLACK VEIL by Rick Moody to me during my December holiday vacation to Tennessee. I am sometimes reluctant to read a book when someone says I should read it because it was a good book, but the reluctance becomes even more cringe worthy when I am told I should read it because it was weird. Okay, so I do have a tendency toward weird tastes sometimes, but to have another person take it upon themselves to decide what might be weird according to my predilections and hand me a book based on that judgment can be somewhat off-putting. Nevertheless I took this bargain book with the reminder that it might be a few weeks before I would get to it, and in doing so assured my sister that I would let her know what I thought about the book. I have now finished reading THE BLACK VEIL and am ready to not only provide my honest assessment of this book to my sister, but also to you who are reading this.

In short, this book is weird. I won't say that it is a book that I would necessarily recommend to anyone else, or that I liked the book. There were times when I forced myself to read with a frustration previously reserved for struggling through certain books or articles required for a college class in which the reading was only done for a grade and not for any personal pleasure or even enlightenment. This is not a positive review of THE BLACK VEIL, nor is it absolutely negative. It is my commentary on a peculiar reading experience with which I had a like/dislike relationship, not having enough of an emotional attachment to consider my feelings toward the book to be as strong as love/hate--my feelings are somewhat ambivalent, yet with enough stirring to exact my pronouncement on Rick Moody's odd little memoir.

One of the impediments of my absolute enjoyment of this book becomes evident in the complete title of Rick Moody's book: THE BLACK VEIL: A MEMOIR WITH DIGRESSIONS. Where the concept of "memoir" in a fairly straight-forward telling of Moody's life story would be reasonable to most readers, the added digressions to the story provide a conundrum of humorous or, at times, interesting historical reflections which sometimes establish a sense of time--past and present--and other times a sense of mind--the authors interpretation of the world around him and his interpolation of his own inner thoughts. In his preface Moody states, ''My book and my life are written in fits, more like epilepsy than like a narrative.'' He goes on to say, "Alas, this account never settles for the orderly where the disorderly and explosive can substitute.." Egad! This sounds a bit like literary fireworks and an attempt at sensationalism to me. It seems to me that even Moody recognizes the difficulty of the way he approached the memoir and how it might be accepted by the reader.

Rick Moody is a well established and critically acclaimed author who is most known for his novels THE ICE STORM and GARDEN STATE, both which have been made into feature films. In his memoir Moody reflects on his early life in what he portrays as a somewhat dysfunctional family, though probably not any more dysfunctional than most average families. From his New England roots he senses an inherited guilt that has been passed from his Puritan forebears and perhaps further back to his European roots. The darkness that overshadows his life is further complicated by the familial connection to one Joseph "Handkerchief" Moody who is thought to be the inspiration of a Nathaniel Hawthorne short story, "The Minister's Black Veil". Since I had never heard of this story, let alone read it, I found myself digressing online to read "The Minister's Black Veil"--not the best story I have ever read, but more of a curiosity of the early American short story. I was to later find that the story is found at the end of Moody's book, but I think the reader would be served better by having the story introduced toward the beginning so that the connection would more clear to the reader of Moody's memoir since so much of the metaphor of the story is the metaphor of Moody's life and the memoir that he has written.

The memoir follows through Moody's troubled adolescence and into his early adulthood during which he struggles with alcohol dependency and difficulties in relating to others. His problems lead to a mental breakdown which results in a stay in a mental hospital. He recounts his period of recovery and some parts of the years that follow. The aspects that might be of most interest to those who want to know about Moody and his writing career are sadly deficient. This is not the story of Rick Moody the successful writer, but the story of Moody the moody guy, angst-ridden, searching for self and trying to understand his family. It is at times dark and troubling, and at others ludicrous and fun. Some of the ancestral history is interesting and some goes to an extreme that can in stretches be boring. Moody must be commended in any case for the amount of detailed research that he has put into this book.

This leads me to the writing style used by Moody in this particular book. If you thought the style of this, my present commentary, was a bit rambling, with an excessive amount of phrasing set apart by commas, then you might multiply my long sentences by double, triple, or even more, and you will get an idea of the way THE BLACK VEIL is written--think in terms of paragraphs that at times go on for several pages. Moody's use of italics throughout the book are rather distracting. The author's explanation for the use italics that is given at the end of the book is rather clever--he uses the italics in lieu of having to resort to footnotes, something which I often find more distracting than italics--but if I had known the reason of the extensive use I might not have been as annoyed with the italics as I was while in the midst of reading THE BLACK VEIL. Moody is a good story-teller when he is telling the story, but he can be pretty perturbing in the digressions, especially with what oftentimes comes across as an artificial and affected style of writing.

Should you read THE BLACK VEIL? For most I would say no, unless you are interested in reading a challenging and uniquely written memoir. This is unlike any other memoir I've read. I often found it tedious reading and was anxious for it to end, however in retrospect the book did stick with me. Moody's conclusions about what is real and what is not in the way we all portray ourselves and see others makes me wonder about the authenticity of this memoir. Has Moody truly lifted the veil to show us who he really is, or has he donned a mask of theatricality to provide us with the gimmickry of a skilled writer playing with our heads. Maybe you'll want to read the book for yourself so you can tell me if you thought it was weird.
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5.0 out of 5 stars Indecent Exposure, May 15, 2002
By A Customer
There is a certain kind of book that is so brilliant that its brilliance is a form of indecency. This is such a book. Writing doesn't get any better than this.
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5.0 out of 5 stars stunning, incandescent masterpiece, April 26, 2002
By A Customer
This will endure as one of the great American meditative memoirs. A harrowing work of genius.
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5.0 out of 5 stars Another Masterwork from the Master, April 26, 2002
By A Customer
A century from now, this book will be on all the reading lists, and the kids who have to read it will probably groan, but they'll all be wrong. This is not a book for kids, though. This is a book for the true adult. It delves deep, and requires courage of the reader--just as it required astonishing courage of the writer.
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The Black Veil: A Memoir with Digressions
The Black Veil: A Memoir with Digressions by Rick Moody (Paperback - May 12, 2003)
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