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The Black Veil Paperback – May 12, 2003
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"A gripping memoir ... intriguing and unforgettable.... A searing work of family history."
"Often downright brilliant.... Moody's prose is vibrant and elegant.... This might well be a landmark in Moody's already very impressive career."
About the Author
Rick Moody's celebrated books include three novels and two collections of short fiction. He is a past recipient of the Addison Metcalf Award and a Guggenheim Fellowship. His fiction and essays have appeared in many major publications. He lives in New York.
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I can't talk about Moody's work without disclosing that I have an intense personal identification with it, having grown up in his "neighborhood" in CT, NY and New England during the 70s and 80s. As a brooding, depressed and chaotic gal for the first 25-30 years of my life, I've shared countless external and internal experiences he describes. I've read the Ice Storm, book and screenplay several times and it never ceases to overwhelm me, how Moody has the ability to capture nuances of this place in time culturally, and this multidimensional place in the lifetime of more recent American generations. I've grappled with whether his experience, and my experience are terribly unique culturally to the NY area (or to drunk and psychiatric "cases" and the communities that surround them) and have come to the conclusion that if you are a child of any suburban/urban American community, and you experienced any kind of the spiritual void and disconnection that seems to present during these decades- then you'll probably find this memoir quite engaging.
Sometimes I think of the Cohen brother's "A serious man" as a more irreverent and lighthearted mirror to the Ice Storm (thought this may speak more to the contrast between Jewish suburban culture and WASP suburban culture - same situation, different interpretation). I'm curious how relevant this material would feel to current 20 or 30 somethings. Perhaps certain elements of the experience of disaffected youth and young adults in the US are universal and Moody draws aspects of events that occurred in the 90s and new millennium into the discussion in an effective manner.
I'm clearly still working it all through in the 5th decade of my life, and Rick Moody has offered me a nice mirror for (hopefully) "useful" contemplation that might serve both myself and others. I think the tapestry he's woven together of works from classic American writers and modern American history makes his story, and our story even more relevant. For someone who is trained as a therapist and not a writer or reader, it offered me an enlightening, personal and very rich view of some of the great American writers such as Hawthorne, who I had only briefly come in contact with through the THC fog of high school. If you tend to think about life, American life, your life, our history and what it may or may not mean, and you like to reflect on it beyond a simple chronicle of war stories- then I think you'll find this memoir penetrating, provocative and illuminating.
Both the author and his grandfather, the owner of a General Motors dealership, were exaggerators. Moody's grandparents lived in Norwalk, CT, after living in Winchester, MA, where the dealership had been located, and Rowayton. The Grandmother occupied the second floor and the Grandfather the basement. The Grandfather told the children to get out of the house and do some work.
Hawthorne tried to write his way out of his life circumstances before getting married in middle age. After college Moody goes to San Francisco to do something new. The landlady is a psychiatrist.
Holidays, back East now, are given over to unquiet waiting. At Christmas there is sorrow, there is the burden of guilty conscience. Gifts have obligations attached to them. Christmas is a contested day with sets of parents. Moody's 'slough of despond' is alleviated by drinking.
Newton Arvin and Leslie Stephens wrote about the Hawthorne story. The veil may represent the sick soul. In York, ME, the author and his father visit the grave of the Reverend Joseph Moody. He died in 1753.
Melancholy is a way of thinking. After having a panic attack Christmas, 1986, there are therapist visits and drugs prescribed. Then in March Moody experiences irrational thoughts, blackness. He ends up in a psychiatric hospital in Queens in 1987.
The writer began the book seeking to conceal nothing. It is an interesting amalgam of family history, personal history, and descriptions of the writer's craft. The Hawthorne story is presented at the end of the book.
For the open-minded reader however, Moody has a much more interesting offering. Using himself as a means of reflecting upon the vast scales of life experience, Moody connects discussions of family and friends, alcoholism and drug use, literature and music, to grand themes such shame, criminality, and tragedy in both personal and national identities. Using Hawthorne's story, The Minister's Black Veil as a touchstone, (think Proust's madeleine but more integral) Moody achieves the rare feat of making his particular life story feel universally important.