My experience with Rick Moody's work is minimal, consisting of a single reading of The Ice Storm a few years ago. The dark, haunting tale is hard to forget. With that in mind, I eagerly obtained a copy of The Black Veil: A Memoir with Digressions.
It's difficult to summarize and characterize this book because Moody erratically touches on many topics. Chapters merely offer a pause in the story, which is written on a loose chronological timeline.
"Readers in search of a tidy, well-organized life in these pages, a life of kisses bestowed or of novels writer, may be surprised. My book and my life are written in fits, more like epilepsy that like a narrative."
Moody uses The Black Veil to discuss his decades of alcohol abuse and drug-flavored depression. The author invites readers into the intimate pathways of his mind, though it's not the most pleasant place to visit.
This is not your standard, tell-all "poor me" memoir. Moody uses these pages to examine his own mind and the causes of his actions.
A folklore discussion based on the writings of Nathaniel Hawthorne is woven between Moody's fits of self-analysis. The book's title is a reference to "The Minister's Black Veil." This short piece by Hawthorne is about a reverend so overcome by guilt that he wears a black veil over his face. Moody and family believe they are descended from Handkerchief Moody, the man on which the story is based.
Much of this "memoir" analyzes the Hawthorne tale and examines the possible reasons the reverend wore the veil. The book's jacket mentions this Hawthorne "venture" in passing. In reality, this avenue is studied from all angles to the point of exhaustion. The author's obsession with Handkerchief Moody, right down to the bizarre act of wearing his own veil, is a distraction from the memoir itself.
The Black Veil is dark and disjointed. I always thought The Ice Storm was a cold book, but it has nothing on the writer's own life. Moody takes readers on a troublesome journey that includes a view from rock bottom inside a psychiatric hospital.
Moody's offering is very hard to digest. The book demands readers sort through the author's tangle of emotions, observations and random thoughts. The Hawthorne literary analysis is a challenging bonus or a distracting hurdle depending on one's preference.
The Black Veil is not written for the Costco book bin. The average pleasure reader probably won't know how to interpret Moody's complex message. Says the author:
Get to know my book the way you would get to know me: in the fullness of time, hesitantly, irritably, impatiently, uncertainly, pityingly, generously.
In the final paragraph, Moody takes a jab at Americans in general, thus insulting the small population that may enjoy this memoir. However, something tells me Rick Moody couldn't care less. The fact that readers are reacting at all establishes success in the intentions of The Black Veil.