|The Black Veil: A Memoir Digressions|
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. And if you wonder about my use of italics, then you are in for a great distraction in Moody's book as he uses italics throughout. 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.
Have you read any of Rick Moody's books, or specifically The Black Veil? When a memoir receives more of a literary treatment than a straight-forward telling of a life story, do you think it is as trustworthy? If a writer is breaking the traditional rules of writing and/or formatting would you prefer to have this explained before you start reading, or do you like to approach a book like a mystery and try to figure out the writer's tricks for yourself or be told after the fact?
Beginning next Wednesday I will be having a series of guest posts. The first one, on July 13th, will be Tina from Life Is Good. Many of you have already heard from Tina in the Post Challenge Challenge that she and Shannon from The Warrior Muse have been undertaking. Tina will be talking about that Challenge and other interesting things. Stay with Tossing It Out on Wednesdays for all the informative guest posts to come.