Rick Moody 1962-
(Full name Hiram F. Moody, III) American novelist, short story writer, and editor.
The following entry presents an overview of Moody's career through 2001.
A member of a generation of media-savvy young writers to come of age during the 1970s, Moody has been hailed as one of the most gifted American authors to emerge in the 1990s. Regarded by some critics as the literary successor to John Cheever and John Updike, Moody exposes the despair and family tensions lurking beneath the glossy surface of northeastern American suburbia in much of his work. Moody's fiction is decidedly contemporary in focus and preoccupation, incorporating pop culture references to the music, fashion, and historical events that bear the stamp of his generation. With the success of The Ice Storm (1994), a novel made into a critically acclaimed film by director Ang Lee in 1997, Moody was propelled into the top ranks of contemporary writers. His subsequent experimentation in Purple America (1997) and the short story collections The Ring of Brightest Angels around Heaven (1996) and Demonology (2000) enhanced his reputation as an adroit and challenging author whose darkly comic vision and postmodern sensibility underscore the vacuity and ironies of modern American life.
Born in New York, Moody, along with his mother and sister, moved often after his parents' divorce. He grew up primarily in Connecticut, but at age thirteen left home to attend St. Paul's, a boarding school in Manchester, New Hampshire. As a young man, Moody suffered from the absence of his father and struggled with alcohol and drug abuse problems until he eventually institutionalized himself in 1987. He received a bachelor's degree in English from Brown University in 1983, where he studied under writer Stanley Elkin, and a master's degree in fine arts from Columbia University in 1986. Moody subsequently worked as an editorial assistant at Simon & Schuster, then as an assistant editor for Farrar, Straus & Giroux. Finding a publisher for his first novel, Garden State (1991), proved difficult for Moody. However, despite repeated rejections, it was finally published after the manuscript unexpectedly won the Pushcart Press Editor's Book Award in 1992. His next book, The Ice Storm, initially posted modest sales, although it attracted a national audience upon the release of the movie adaptation starring Kevin Kline and Sigourney Weaver. The death of Moody's sister in 1995, while he was at work on Purple America, had a profound impact on the author and found expression in two stories in Demonology. Moody lives on Fishers Island, a rural location off Long Island, New York. Since 1991, he has taught fiction writing and composition part-time at Bennington College.
Much of Moody's fiction revolves around disintegrating family life, which he sees as a microcosm for America and as symptomatic of larger sociocultural issues. His first novel, Garden State, is set in a northern New Jersey suburb during the Reagan era and involves three twenty-something characters: Alice; her sometime boyfriend, Dennis; and her half-brother, Lane, who has recently returned from a psychiatric hospital following a suicide attempt. The novel embodies many of Moody's recurring motifs, including disaffected adolescents, alternative rock music, absent parents, and unfulfilled longing for family security. The Ice Storm focuses on two families—the Hoods and the Williamses—in which the narcotic and sexual experimentation of the teenage children mirror their parents' search for meaning and feeling. As an antidote to his sexless marriage, Ben Hood has an affair with Janey Williams, while his wife, Elena, seeks excitement through shoplifting and the era's ubiquitous self-help books. At the novel's climax, the adults attend a spouse-swapping party while their unattended children simultaneously court disaster. Paul Hood tries unsuccessfully to bed a classmate, while Wendy Hood seduces the Williams boys, one of whom wanders off into the aftermath of an ice storm and is accidentally killed when he sits on a guardrail electrified by a downed wire. The story is set in upper-middle-class New Canaan, Connecticut, during Thanksgiving weekend and satirizes the family traditions of the 1970s against the backdrop of President Nixon's impeachment. The conclusion of the novel, however, suggests that even imperfect families are a source of comfort. The short story collection The Ring of Brightest Angels around Heaven showcases Moody's literary experimentation. The story “Treatment,” for example, is a single sentence in the form of a movie treatment, while “The Apocalypse Commentary of Bob Paisner” is a term paper in which the student writer notes similarities between the Book of Revelation and his own life. Other stories return to Moody's recurring subjects of loss and the search for family and roots. “The Preliminary Notes” involves an insecure husband who listens in on his wife's phone conversations to determine if she is unfaithful. Nostalgia for the past is a theme of “The James Dean Garage Band,” in which the narrator fondly recalls his earlier days as a musician in a rock band. However, the title story, “The Ring of Brightest Angels around Heaven,” about the scarred lives of prostitutes, transvestites, and lesbians in New York City's East Village, is much grimmer in tone. The collection concludes with a list of the personal events, books, and records that have shaped Moody's life and aesthetic. Purple America marks a stylistic change in Moody's fiction, including the use of longer sentences and a more playful vocabulary that has elicited comparison to the style of William Faulkner. The novel is told through the eyes of three separate characters: Hex Raitliffe; his mother, Billie; and Lou Sloan, Billie's second husband. Hex is a stuttering alcoholic in his thirties who returns home to care for his terminally ill mother. Billie can only communicate through a computer and wants her son's help to end her life. Within twenty-four hours, Hex struggles to provide care for his mother and to come to terms with his past—including a father who died when he was a boy—and the present—which involves not only a decision about whether he will help his mother die, but also features a pathetic sexual encounter with a woman he adored in high school. Looming over these personal crises, and alluding to the larger cultural and historical context of the novel, is a meltdown at the nearby nuclear power plant where Hex's father and stepfather both worked. The short fiction of Demonology is marked by Moody's further experimentation with form. In “Boys,” a story about two brothers growing up, each sentence begins with the word “boys.” Another piece, “Surplus Value Books: Catalogue Number 13,” is structured like a used book catalogue, while “Wilkie Fahnstock, The Boxed Set,” is written to resemble the sleeve notes to an anthology of popular music. “The Ineluctable Modality of the Vaginal” is a single sentence about a Ph.D. student who uses literary theory to explain her relationship with a man who won't make a commitment and who she believes must administer a gynecological exam to truly know her. Two other stories—“Demonology” and “The Mansion on the Hill”—explore the pain of losing a sister.
Moody's fiction has attracted both critical praise and a devoted cult following. Though his award-winning debut novel, Garden State, put him on the literary map, even Moody has agreed with some critics that the book as the apprentice work of a young author. The Ice Storm was praised for its sensitive treatment of adolescent angst and its vivid portrait of Watergate-era suburbia. Critics noted that unlike many coming-of-age novels, such as The Catcher in the Rye, in which adults are reproached, Moody presents the complexity of the family structure without casting summary judgment against the admittedly flawed parents in the story. While Moody's ability to replicate the cultural milieu of the 1970s has been appreciated by many, some critics suggested that the novel's “time capsule” quality caused the story to seem ephemeral. Moody's short story collections, The Ring of Brightest Angels around Heaven and Demonology, have garnered positive response from reviewers, who have commended the author's deadpan humor, impressionistic style, and clever narrative presentations. Despite frequent comparisons to John Cheever, Moody has cited writers Don DeLillo and Samuel Beckett as greater influences on his work. Purple America is regarded by many as Moody's most ambitious work to date. As his writing has grown more experimental in form, critics have responded with mixed enthusiasm. While some critics appreciate his lyrical elongated sentences and such stylistic devices as a rampant use of italics and the substitution of dashes for quotation marks, others find these distracting. However, many reviewers have found Moody's grasp of language to be whimsically intellectual and have seen his odd word usage as a sign of inventiveness rather than mere gimmickry. Likewise, Moody's allusions to overarching societal issues have been alternatively viewed as either shrewd or strained. Despite such criticism, Moody continues to receive critical approval for his unsettling insights and willingness to push the envelope of contemporary American fiction.
Garden State (novel) 1991
The Ice Storm (novel) 1994
The Ring of Brightest Angels around Heaven (short stories) 1996
Joyful Noise: The New Testament Revisited [editor, with Darcey Steinke] (essays) 1997
Purple America (novel) 1997
Demonology (short stories) 2000
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SOURCE: “Entering Gothic Suburbia, Where Dysfunction Romps Across Tidy Lawns,” in Chicago Tribune Books, May 29, 1994, p. 5.
[In the following positive review of The Ice Storm, Begley commends Moody's “keen observation and sympathy for human suffering,” though finds shortcomings in the novel's unnecessary “literary flourishes.”]
Novelists don't like to be lumped into categories or ushered into the unwelcome company of other, supposedly similar writers, but mankind is a classifying animal, and besides, really good writers outlast the labels applied to them. Rick Moody's The Ice Storm, a bitter and loving and damning tribute to the American family, belongs to a subgenre I think of as suburban Gothic-tidy lawns and two-car garages, all the vulgar complacencies of affluence, mixed with brooding horror, melodramatic violence, extreme psychological states.
There has been a mini-boom in suburban Gothic in the last year or so: first “The Virgin Suicides” by Jeff Eugenides, then “Elect Mr. Robinson for a Better World” by Donald Antrim. Both of these young novelists, like Moody, aim to expose the radical dysfunction of a superficially placid social order. And Eugenides, Antrim and Moody all make expert use of deadpan humor-for they know that the very idea of suburban Gothic, fantastical horror let loose in a prim, orderly neighborhood, is funny in a grim way....
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SOURCE: “Cheever Country, 1994,” in New Criterion, Vol. 12, No. 10, June, 1994, pp. 58–65.
[In the following excerpt, Allen offers a favorable evaluation of The Ice Storm, which she places in the tradition of American WASP novels and contrasts with the fiction of John Updike and John Cheever.]
The landscape is much the same as it was a generation ago. American suburbia has changed remarkably little, despite the advent of malls and bypasses, guns and drugs. Suburbia is a landscape of the mind, a utopian experiment. Its failures may be obvious: the protected model communities have proved no safe haven from divorce, alcoholism, suicide and violence. But the suburban ideal, a planned combination of community and privacy, is still resonant in America's fantasy about itself.
Cheever's and Updike's suburbanites married early. They produced children in the Fifties and spent the next ten or fifteen years moving steadily ahead. Then along came the Sixties to shake them up. But since these were slightly square people, well insulated from artists and intellectuals, it was the Seventies by the time they caught on to swinging and wife-swapping, some five years after the Summer of Love. A number of marriages collapsed, or were severely damaged. Alcohol wreaked its havoc. The kids survived as best they could.
A generation has passed, and these same kids, born in the...
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SOURCE: “Old-Fashioned Families,” in Times Literary Supplement, August 5, 1994, p. 18.
[In the following review, Harrison offers a favorable assessment of The Ice Storm.]
New Canaan, the setting for Rick Moody's second novel, The Ice Storm, is a suburb from Hell. Understandably, the people who live there have problems. Ben Hood, “the dad in what follows,” thinks love is “close to indebtedness” and has married Elena to pay the debt. She simply believes he proposed “out of lack of imagination.” Their son, Paul, is a “garbage head … a loser,” incapable of spending a straight and sober day at his exclusive boarding-school. During the winter-holiday weekend in 1973, in which the novel takes place, the behaviour of Wendy, the Hoods’ daughter, suggests that the numbing orthodoxy of New Canaan would send anyone into sexual ferment. Even her parents spend Saturday evening at a party where a woman's partner for the night is decided by the car keys she pulls from a bowl.
The novel builds up to this party and its terrible aftermath. And as Paul, having drugged his best friend, cudgels Libbets, an unwilling girl, “with good vibes,” his sister climbs into bed with Sandy Williams, her doomed boyfriend's prepubescent brother. Meanwhile, Elena tries to understand the orgy-to-be in terms which her self-improvement manuals have taught her are important. The remnants of...
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SOURCE: “Voices in the Night,” in Los Angeles Times Book Review, August 7, 1994, p. 15.
[In the following review, Akins offers a positive assessment of The Ice Storm.]
This is not so much a novel as an excavation—of that nearly but not quite extinct entity the nuclear family as it was in those dark ages, the 1970s. The argot, the foibles, the fads and the artifacts: They're all here [in The Ice Storm], meticulously catalogued and historically framed with discussions of the design, politics and groping psychology of the period. In the midst of this exactingly reconstructed rubble we find the Hoods, a family of four. Because the Hoods live in the suburbs—in “the most congenial and superficially calm of suburbs”—we may be sure there's plenty to uncover, all manner of unsuspected subterranean doings and undoings. And in fact, the Hoods are having quite a day, which is to say, night.
Informed by insights from Masters & Johnson and “I'm Okay, You're Okay” and Marvel Comics and Creem, these four are playing out the defining act of their family drama—and that they're each doing their parts separately says a lot about what's happening to them. Because of the extended paraphrases and quotations and references that bolster and bracket each character's point of view, the Hoods certainly seem to be emblematic of their time, which makes their emotional isolation, the...
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SOURCE: “Dropping Out,” in Los Angeles Times Book Review, August 20, 1995, p. 3.
[In the following review of The Ring of Brightest Angels around Heaven, Eder commends Moody's narrative skill and humor, but concludes that the stories in this collection are marred by literary artifice and “a lack of authorial conviction.”]
If Rick Moody were an innkeeper instead of a story writer, his guests would admire the striking decor of the rooms but be less pleased, perhaps, at finding Moody lying in the bed.
The title novella and many of the stories in The Ring of Brightest Angels around Heaven have both a surface and an expressive brilliance, purposefully undermined and distressed in various up-to-date literary ways. There is a cold, comic touch of Donald Barthelme in the obsessive journal of a man who tapes his wife's telephone calls; a suggestion of Woody Allen's hyper-rational schlemiel in the monologue of a student who thinks the Book of Revelations is about himself, and something of the heavy-metal urban chaos of William Vollmann in a third piece—the novella—about drug-wasted lives in New York's hell zones.
The echoes do not diminish Moody's considerable accomplishments. All original music is a pathway through echoes. The fact that they come from so many directions, though, suggests the weakness. Along with the energy and stylistic dazzle, there...
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SOURCE: A review of The Ring of Brightest Angels around Heaven, in Review of Contemporary Fiction, Vol. 16, No. 1, Spring, 1996, p. 154.
[In the following review, Laurence praises Moody's stylistic experimentation in The Ring of Brightest Angels around Heaven.]
The celebrated author of the innovative novel The Ice Storm surprises us again with a totally unconventional collection of stories [The Ring of Brightest Angels around Heaven] that explore the idea of form. The title story, a novella actually, contemplates the Lower East Side with its heroin use and its sex clubs, the peep shows of Times Square, bondage, and the art scene. We follow three different characters from separate milieus of society. Rick Moody definitely lives inside of these creepy places as he portrays characters rarely seen, while another side of his brain is very literary. In “The Preliminary Notes” the narrator writes in deposition form a story about taping his wife's phone calls while she is having an affair. One story is based on a term paper dealing with the Book of Revelations, another is written in the form of a film treatment. In “The James Dean Garage Band” we follow the struggles of a failed rock band. Finally in “Primary Sources” we have an autobiography of Moody with footnotes and important books. Moody polishes the world with his sharp-focused prose, and gambles here with a range of...
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SOURCE: “Rick Moody: A Nuclear Family Meltdown,” in Publishers Weekly, March 31, 1997, pp. 46–47.
[In the following interview, Debord provides an overview of Moody's life and career and includes Moody's comments on his fiction, literary beginnings, and the publication of Purple America.]
Rick Moody digs black: black-leather motorcycle jacket, black jeans, black shirt, black combat boots and black horn-rimmed glasses. The car he's rented to tool around Saratoga Springs, N.Y., during a stint at Yaddo, is white, but that seems beyond his chromatic control. “They're all either white or teal, right?” he says, steering with both hands, as though maybe driving is something he undertakes as infrequently as a haircut. The short ride to Madeline's Espresso Bar takes us by the historic Lincoln Baths, and the 36-year-old author casually recommends that PW go for a soak in the barium-filled water, which he claims, is widely renowned for its curative properties.
Moody ought to know: his latest novel from Little, Brown, Purple America, conjoins two fundamental American fears, nuclear power and terminal disease, and does so with such veracity that the author comes off as an expert in both areas. Backed by a ＄75,000 marketing campaign and a first serial sale to the New Yorker, the novel also raises the stakes on the widely praised writer's career. A bridgehead American...
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SOURCE: “Taking Care of Mother,” in Washington Post, April 8, 1997, p. B2.
[In the following review of Purple America, Nicholson finds the novel hindered by Moody's indulgent prose and “stylistic quirks.”]
This novel about a day in the life of a troubled New England family opens with a scene of almost unbearable intensity as Dexter “Hex” Raitliffe bathes, clothes and spoon-feeds his mother, who's crippled by a debilitating multiple sclerosis-like disease. It's a poignant four pages that reaches for, and sometimes achieves, an almost religious solemnity: “Whosoever knows the folds and complexities of his own mother's body, he shall never die whosoever in this instant of sorrow and reverence, knows the answers to why roses bloom, why wineglasses sing, why human lips, when kissed, are so soft, and why parents suffer, he shall never die.”
If the rest of Purple America were as good as its opening section, the novel would be un-put-downable. But the same qualities that make the opening good—tour de force prose, and a scrupulous, unflinching eye (the descriptions of Billie Raitliffe's “useless body,” “sclerotic limbs” and “stalactites of drool” are almost pornographically frank, but terribly moving)—ultimately make the novel eminently put-downable. In the end, it's like listening to an album by one of the young jazz musicians...
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SOURCE: “Purple Haze,” in Los Angeles Times Book Review, April 20, 1997, p. 12.
[In the following review, Frank maintains that Purple America is “an original and reverberative novel” despite finding shortcomings in the novel's characterizations and unsatisfying ending.]
Purple America, is a robust book. It is a book whose capacious arms reach up out of the bold second sentence—four pages long and surprisingly assured—to embrace a striking range of thought, memory and feeling. These arms manage to grasp people longing and people loving; people seeking and people struggling; people in deep distress, both physical and psychological; and people inhabiting a land that is in its own distress—a land that is purple the way storm clouds are purple and nuclear explosions are purple, yet also the way mountains wear this hue, with purple majesty. The themes Moody has taken on in this, his third novel (following Garden State and The Ice Storm), never lack ambition. They may not always be seamlessly integrated into his storytelling but, at its best, the storytelling is energetic enough to propel the reader through a remarkable weekend in the life of Moody's hero, the blighted and beleaguered Hex Raitliffe.
Purple America captures the world in a day, specifically Hex's world, on an early November weekend, Friday afternoon to Saturday morning. Moody's...
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SOURCE: “A Full Day: Rick Moody's Rich, Dazzling Novel of 24 Hours in the Life of a Troubled Family,” in Chicago Tribune Books, May 11, 1997, p. 5.
[In the following review, Solomon offers a positive assessment of Purple America.]
Rick Moody's extraordinary third novel [Purple America] covers just one fateful day in the lives of the troubled Raitliffe family, yet seldom has an author crowded so much substance into 24 hours.
Billie Raitliffe, 70, has spent two decades in her opulent Connecticut home wasting away with a neurological disease. She has lost her eyesight, her speech, her muscular functions and finally her will to live. And now, even her second husband, Lou Sloane, has left her. Lou's desertion, announced in the apparently heartless form of a note typed on her computer, has summoned Billie's only son, aptly named Hex, from his foundering Manhattan job as a free-lance publicist. But as the alcoholic, stuttering, 38-year-old ne'er-do-well begins ministering to his helpless mother, we quickly see he cannot care even for himself.
This grim threesome—a hopelessly ill woman wishing only to die, the husband who has deserted her and the son mired in fecklessness—offers slender ground on which to build attachment in a reader. Therein lies one facet of Moody's genius. Working against the grain of their slight potential, he renders each character so...
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SOURCE: A review of Purple America, in Review of Contemporary Fiction, Vol. XVII, No. 3, Fall, 1997, pp. 226–27.
[In the following review, Maliszewski offers a positive assessment of Purple America.]
In a traditional allegory characters stand in for their qualities. Goodness, Courage, and Charity stride about, going head-to-head and hand-to-hand with their well-known evil twins. In both The Ice Storm, his last novel, and Purple America, Rick Moody writes a kind of demographic allegory. Characters in the novel are at once people in an unfolding drama as well as a segment of the American population, recognizable pieces of the most recent census, say, people of a certain educational background, a certain size house, a certain quality of clothing, a certain grade of household appliances.
The Raitliffes, a nuclear family in the early stages of meltdown, are the primary characters in this novel, and Billie, her son Hex, and Lou Sloane, Billie's second husband, are real to more than their own emotions. Reality here is not just the frayed inner reality of characters in trouble; there are national troubles afoot as well, and the characters are never separate from them. These crises and conflicts that summon Hex from New York City, cause Lou to leave Billie, and bring Billie to the point where she wishes to die would never survive a summary. Suffice it to say that the novel...
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SOURCE: “Family Matters,” in New Yorker, September 29, 1997, pp. 86–7.
[In the following excerpt, Merkin offers a tempered assessment of the film adaptation of The Ice Storm.]
Here's what I can't figure out about The Ice Storm, the intelligent but curiously remote movie that's been made from Rick Moody's novel: Is the anomie—the soul rot—that eats away at everyone in it best attributed to suburbia, to the seventies, or to the human condition as exemplified by the involutions of Yankee character? The movie is set in New Canaan, Connecticut, and affluent suburbs are always suspect—suggesting, as they do, an implicitly failed American ideal, with loneliness and anxiety lurking behind the white picket fences and well-clipped lawns. Then again, there is the retrospective absurdity of the decade itself, with its touchy-feely notions of sexual openness and “self-realization.” To this end, Ang Lee, the director, has re-created the year 1973 down to the last incriminating detail: water beds, crocheted vests, the Watergate hearings, and couples therapy. And yet the two families at the center of the movie act so disconnected and dazed—so, well, dysfunctional, except that the word hadn't yet come into use, sparing us the need for further descriptives—that the temptation to blame the movie's bleakness on the nature of family life itself is strong. Or perhaps the weather is the...
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SOURCE: “The Way It Was,” in Saturday Night, Vol. 112, No. 10, December 1997–January 1998, p. 14.
[In the following review of The Ice Storm, Moher objects to Moody's portrayal of New Canaan suburbanites as effete and aimless, citing as evidence his own positive experiences in New Canaan as a teenager during the early 1970s.]
I entered high school in New Canaan, Connecticut, in 1969, which makes me precisely contemporary with the teenage characters in Rick Moody's novel The Ice Storm, now a movie by Ang Lee. The Ice Storm is an anthropological dig into post-sixties confusion and suburban ennui. It makes New Canaan out to be a sort of Peyton Place with bell-bottoms, a “desolate village” where parents swap mates at “key parties” and their children are as forlorn as abandoned puppies. But it all looked pretty different to a thirteen-year-old kid recently arrived off the Canadian prairies.
I had gone to the States after the death of my parents, to live with my older sister's family. While I wasn't among what the book calls “the half-dozen poor boys of New Canaan High,” neither were we in the ranks of the town's wealthy. My friends were, though.
Moody's novel presents the adolescents of the community as pathetically gormless. To me they were all handsome and polished, even the geeks. (I was leading the life of Nick Carraway in The...
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SOURCE: “Gospel Musings by Younger Authors,” in Christian Science Monitor, February 26, 1998, p. B3.
[In the following review, Lampmann offers a positive assessment of Joyful Noise.]
A thought-provoking anthology of essays, Joyful Noise: The New Testament Revisited is a conscious attempt to enter into today's public debate about the values we live by.
Concerned that public discussion on spiritual and moral values is dominated by fundamentalist Christianity, the two editors—raised in religious households—called on fellow artists to speak about their personal experience with the Bible. They sought fresh insights about familiar scriptures to serve as possible models for ethical behavior.
The contributors are from a generation of young adults that, the editors say, often shies away from saying what it believes about spiritual values. But novelists Rick Moody and Darcey Steinke persuaded their colleagues to share private musings and personal interpretations of New Testament texts. The result is a heartfelt, surprising, frank, sometimes sad, and often funny book whose literary quality is consistently high even as its spiritual messages vary greatly.
Not all of the contributors are Christians. A Jew (Jim Lewis in “Was”) discusses his admiration for the poetry and vision of John 1:1–18, even while disagreeing with its worldview. And a few...
(The entire section is 580 words.)
SOURCE: “Slanted Types,” in Times Literary Supplement, February 27, 1998, p. 22.
[In the following review, Quinn offers a positive assessment of Purple America.]
If the stuttering, alcoholic, Hex Raitliffe is the official and somewhat over-qualifiedly anti-hero of Purple America, Rick Moody's third, and best, novel, the book's unofficial Chorus is provided by, and in, italics. At one level, the book is, like Moody's acclaimed The Ice Storm (1994), an exercise in social comedy and observation—this time depicting an upscale Connecticut family's encounter with the bleak realities of deterioration of the body, the environment and the modern world. Hex, is endowed with a whole armoury of bathetic accessories designed to elicit our sympathy and amusement. He has a drink problem, he is feckless, he is sexually inept and consonantally challenged.
This last affliction points to a crucial and more ambitious aspect of the novel—the way it charts our attempts and failures to communicate, the way it focuses on the wonderful but imperilled thing that is language, be it language fractured (“What is it you're t-t-trying to t-tell me?”), language empurpled (as in the many passages where Moody aspires to a lush and lyrical, yet contemporary and flexible, register), or language italicized. Scarcely a page goes by without pepperings of italicized words, sentences or...
(The entire section is 880 words.)
SOURCE: “Following the Fall-Out,” in London Review of Books, March 19, 1998, pp. 22–23.
[In the following review, Star provides an overview of Moody's thematic preoccupations and artistic development from Garden State to Purple America.]
Like much of Rick Moody's previous work, Purple America charts the lives of the ‘slovenly, affluent’ young. It's not an especially good life. Moody's characters are distinctly unhappy, unformed, unable to proceed with their lives in anything like a reasonable way. Instead, they gradually succumb to a set of local problems. When the logic of crisis is put in motion, the outlook further darkens. In Moody's novels, to be born is a crime, and to grow up compounds the offence. The enclosed residences of American affluence are under a curse—nature and neuroses will contrive to bring them low.
Moody delivers this dark verdict in a casual, off-hand prose. His miniature family tragedies emerge through a screen of humorous banter and comically exhibited clichés; his language frequently reminds us of its intimacy with convenience stores, shag carpets, and the patter of commercial speech. Updating Cheever and Updike, he wants to make the literature of suburban distress available to a less rigid generation, one which grew up on the Brady Bunch and the Bee Gees.
At the same time, Moody brings political and...
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SOURCE: “A Veiled Look into Voicing the Unspeakable,” in Philadelphia Inquirer, June 3, 1998, p. Q02.
[In the following essay, Brady provides an overview of Moody's life, fiction, and literary career.]
Who was that masked man? It might just be Rick Moody.
Seems he's been wearing a handkerchief or black veil over his face occasionally as part of his research into a freewheeling nonfiction book about a long-ago relative nicknamed Handkerchief Moody.
Handkerchief—who died in 1820—donned the veil for the last 10 or 15 years of his life out of remorse for having accidentally killed his best childhood friend with a firearm.
Moody has worn the veil at the Yaddo arts colony in Saratoga Springs, N.Y., much to the consternation of many of those around him.
The story of Handkerchief Moody is the latest work planned by the author of Garden State, The Ice Storm, The Ring of Brightest Angels around Heaven and Purple America, which has just been released in paperback. The Ice Storm was made into a critically acclaimed film last year, starring Kevin Kline and directed by director Ang Lee.
In Purple America, Moody writes about the meltdown of a nuclear family in Connecticut. Dexter “Hex” Raitliffe has been summoned home from New York to take care of his mother, Billie Raitliffe,...
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SOURCE: A review of Joyful Noise, in Review of Contemporary Fiction, Vol. XVIII, No. 2, Summer, 1998, p. 258.
[In the following review, Parry offers a positive assessment of Joyful Noise.]
Joyful Noise is an eclectic collection of essays on religion in general and the New Testament in particular by mostly young, contemporary writers including Madison Smartt Bell, Benjamin Cheever, Barry Hannah, bell hooks, and Joanna Scott. It is a pleasure to see an engagement with spirituality in a less than dogmatic manner, by writers who represent a variety of interpretations and come from backgrounds ranging from white, heterosexual, and Christian to African-American, Hispanic, gay, Jewish, and Buddhist. The editors compare the collection to jazz, hence the name Joyful Noise, various riffs on Jesus and the apostles.
Topics in this volume range from personal interpretations of Jesus to how the Gospels can affect the way we live in modern society. Among the most successful are the essays which blend personal narrative with a carefully thought-out reaction to a specific part of the New Testament. Bell hooks's “Love's Alchemy,” for example, starts with her experience of attending a class on the Bible as Literature and ends with a beautiful meditation on 1 John, on how perfect love can cast out fear and what the implications of that notion mean.
There is a...
(The entire section is 303 words.)
SOURCE: “Moody on Dark Humor, Bright Angels, and Quantum Leaps,” in Poets & Writers, Vol. 27, No. 2, March–April, 1999, pp. 37, 39, 41.
[In the following interview, Moody discusses the themes and writing of Purple America, his views on spirituality and morality, and the development of his prose style and artistic concerns.]
[Gordon:] Your work seems to center on how spirit might illuminate the soulless structure of social process. Are you aware of this when you write? And how important a role does social conscience play in your work?
[Moody:] Well, I certainly thought of Purple America as being a book that tried to elaborate valid, genuine, spiritual structures that were outside of institutional religious edifices, and to do so without being secular at the same time. In other words, to believe—to the extent that that really means something—but to resist received articulations about belief. And as far as the popular-culture stuff goes, I feel like that's perfectly valid terrain for me, and that the high/low distinction is a continuum, or it should be seen as a continuum, and that literature—with the full force of this word; literature that's ambitious to be literature—can certainly have plenty to do with the popular at the same time.
Family is an ideal microcosm for society, as the action of one member has reference and...
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SOURCE: “Moody Indigo,” in Poets & Writers, Vol. 27, No. 2, March–April, 1999, pp. 34–43.
[In the following essay, Moore provides an overview of Moody's life and literary career, his artistic and thematic preoccupations, and the development of his fictional concerns and prose style.]
You'd never know from looking at Rick Moody that he's been dubbed the heir to the literary tradition of John Cheever. With his shag of bleach-blond hair, worn-out blue jeans, and high-top sneakers, he seems more like someone you'd find working at a bookstore than someone who's written books that grace bookstore shelves. You wouldn't think he's the type of guy who packs them in at readings and teaches at prestigious writing workshops around the country. Nor does he fit the part of the workhorse who gets up every morning at six to pound out some of the most striking and inventive prose in contemporary literature. But, though it's hard to picture him sipping sherry at a PEN Center benefit, Rick Moody—who's all about defying categorization—is very much a man of letters.
His most recent novel, Purple America, has garnered universally rave reviews; a movie version of The Ice Storm was released to critical acclaim in the fall of 1997; and he was listed as one of (of all magazines) Entertainment Weekly’s top 100 creative people in entertainment in 1997. Add it all up and Moody...
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SOURCE: “In a State of Irony,” in Times Literary Supplement, October 27, 2000, p. 23.
[In the following review, MacFarlane finds Demonology to be “an uneven collection,” despite the presence of several strong stories in the book.]
At one point in Todd Solondz's 1998 film Happiness, a female novelist is talking to her sister on the telephone, while her bronzed and unclad lover lifts weights. “You know, people put New Jersey down,” she tells her sister. “None of my friends can actually believe I live here, but they just don't get it—I'm living in a state of irony.” New Jersey, dubbed the Garden State in a fit of bucolic irony by its tourist board, provided the location and the title for Rick Moody's depressing first novel, Garden State (1993). His second, The Ice Storm (1994), presented the decay of the suburban ideal in 1970s New England; Ang Lee turned it into a bleakly elegant film. Purple America (1997), his third, described twenty-four terrible hours in the life of a Connecticut family—mother an invalid, son an alcoholic, stepfather fled—and was compared with James Joyce's Ulysses for its timescale, its vibrant, runaway language and its versatile use of the interior monologue. Moody, in other words, has steadily turned the states of the Eastern seaboard into his stamping ground, and suburban dysfunctionality into his motif. American...
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SOURCE: “Moody Rips the Suburbs Again,” in Toronto Star, February 4, 2001, p. BK-03.
[In the following review, Charbonneau offers a positive assessment of Demonology.]
The narrator of one of the stories in American Rick Moody's Demonology argues that soft rock music is “like a perfumed glob of used toilet tissue or a sample of imitation American cheese food product or meatless chili.” The same could be said for too many books of fiction—all light prose and predictable story lines. Moody's fiction is anything but soft or light.
Moody's latest collection—he's written a previous collection and three novels, including The Ice Storm and Purple America—is no easy-to-swallow literature you can read semi-absentmindedly in the subway. He's a gutsy writer who likes to experiment with form and structure, and the result is often impressive.
“The Ineluctable Morality of the Vaginal,” for instance, is told in a single 17-page sentence, ending with a meticulously described gynecological exam, a procedure the main character feels her lover needs to perform in order to understand her intrinsically.
The book opens with “The Mansion on the Hill,” a miniature novel so rich an entire review could be devoted to it. The narrator is a young man who has been in an existential funk since his sister died in a car crash. As the action...
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SOURCE: “A Moody Kind of Suburbia,” in Los Angeles Times, February 21, 2001, p. E1.
[In the following essay, Reynolds discusses Moody's literary career and relays the author's comments on his life and work.]
To be fair, it is not highly professional to tell a tired writer on a book tour that you think he has a nice face. Some people might think you are, how do you say, “coming on to them.” But like a lot of Rick Moody's readers, I feel like I know him (every author's worst nightmare). He has become, for a generation of people in their 30s and 40s, a dark chronicler of American suburbia—mostly the East Coast variety, but it translates.
The 1997 movie version of Moody's 1994 novel, The Ice Storm, directed by the supremely stylish Ang Lee, clinched this reputation and widened his audience to include a whole new subspecies of Moody fans. For example, a young woman with long blond hair in the audience at Moody's recent reading at the Skirball Cultural Center (as black- and leather-clad a crowd as you'd ever hope to see on a L.A. weeknight) turned a question about '70s costumes in The Ice Storm into a private conversation with “Rick” that went on for several nostalgic and sentimental moments while the rest of the 50 or 60 people present tried gamely to lean into it.
Moody was in town to promote his new short story collection Demonology. A...
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Burroway, Janet. “Toxic Dreams.” New York Times Book Review (27 April 1997): 7.
Burroway offers a positive assessment of Purple America, praising the novel as “breathtaking” and “wonderfully convincing.”
Garner, Dwight. “Moody Swings.” Village Voice (8 April 1997): 49.
Garner offers a mixed assessment of Purple America, calling the novel “a grand, frazzled, caterwauling mess.”
Goldstein, Bill. “Flirting with Disaster.” New York Times Book Review (25 February 2001): 13.
This interview with Moody provides an overview of his life, writing, and career.
Gorra, Michael. “Guttering Out.” New York Times Book Review (20 August 1995): 7.
Gorra offers a generally positive assessment of The Ring of Brightest Angels around Heaven.
Kirn, Walter. “Lexical Overdrive.” New York Times Book Review (25 February 2001): 12.
Kirn offers a mixed assessment of Demonology, calling the collection “uneven in the highest, most ambitious sense.”
Maslin, Janet. “Warlocks, Sport Utility Vehicles, and the Eagles? O.K.” New York Times (15 February 2001): E10.
Maslin offers a mixed assessment of Demonology,...
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