Rick Moody, a child of the 1970s and the privileged middle class of the Northeast, has become a specialist in dissecting both in his novels and short stories, which tend to focus on the troubled state of the nuclear family.
A bitter wind blows through the suburban landscapes created by novelist Rick Moody. Consider the elements of his second -- and most famous -- creation, The Ice Storm: Watergate hearings, marital infidelity, spouse-swapping key parties, familial disenfranchisement, and one teenager's chance meeting with an errant power line. All over Thanksgiving weekend.
"Rick Moody's The Ice Storm," wrote the Chicago Tribune's Adam Begley in 1994, "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."
These Gothic-tidy lawns are the stuff of Moody's childhood. Though born in New York City, he grew up in various suburbs, including New Caanan, Connecticut, the home of the Hood family, his hapless, disconnected brood in The Ice Storm. A child of the 1970s, he apparently took copious notes, because his novels are filled with the detail of the period: the books, the articles, Masters & Johnson, Creem.
"[The Ice Storm] 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 Los Angeles Times noted. "The argot, the foibles, the fads and the artifacts: They're all here, meticulously catalogued and historically framed with discussions of the design, politics and groping psychology of the period."
In Purple America, Moody again visits the neighborhoods of privileged Connecticut, exploring the disappointments and debauchery of the American middle class. Set over a 24-hour period, the novel follows late-30s alcoholic Hex Raitliffe, who comes home to care for his invalid mother, abandoned by his stepfather, who manages a nearby nuclear power plant.
The Chicago Tribune pronounced the novel "dazzling" and even drew comparisons to Shakespeare: "While it might seem a blasphemous assertion, readers also may sense Moody's kinship to the young bard in his exuberance at the possibilities of language. Self-consciously artful but rarely obtrusive, Moody's prose dazzles with labyrinthine sentences of Faulknerian length. Its opening passage rings with biblical cadences, into the middle of which he tosses a Zen koan, all describing Hex giving his mother a bath. So rich, in fact, is this book that it demands to be read at least twice."
Following his studies at Brown University and the master of fine arts program at Columbia University, Moody worked as an editor at Farrar, Straus & Giroux -- a position that, one interviewer noted, made Moody wince upon recollection -- before releasing his first novel, Garden State, in 1992. He has also released two collections of short fiction, as well as a memoir, The Black Veil, in which he talks of the substance abuse that threw him into a life-threatening depression and recalls a relative who wore a black veil for much of his adult life, as atonement for accidentally killing a childhood friend.
"I'm naturally drawn to stuff you're not supposed to talk about," he told the The Philadelphia Inquirer in 1998. "I think literature is best when it's voicing what we would prefer not to talk about.... Literature is about interior states and emotional states, about what people think that they don't always say to their neighbors. I'm drawn magnetically with my tangled long sentences to those spots people don't want to talk about."
Good To Know
Moody wore a veil during his stint at the Yaddo artists' colony, where he worked on his memoir and family history, The Black Veil.
His father used to read from Moby-Dick at the dinner table each Thanksgiving.
Moody likes to write on the road on his laptop, listening to experimental music -- as a way to avoid distraction.