Cover image for The black veil : a memoir, with digressions
The black veil : a memoir, with digressions
Moody, Rick.
Personal Author:
First American edition.
Publication Information:
Boston : Little, Brown and Co., [2002]

Physical Description:
viii, 323 pages ; 24 cm
Personal Subject:
Format :


Call Number
Material Type
Home Location
Item Holds
PS3563.O5537 Z463 2002 Adult Non-Fiction Non-Fiction Area

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In his early 20s, a lifetime of excess left Rick Moody suddenly stranded in a depression so profound that he feared for his life. A stay in a psychiatric hospital was just the first step out of mental illness. In this astonishingly inventive book, Moody tells the story of his collapse and recovery in an inspired journey through what it means to be young and confused, older and confused, guilty, lost, and healed. Woven through his own story, Moody also traces his familys paternal line, looking for clues to his own melancholyin particular to one ancestor, Reverend Joseph Moody, about whom Nathaniel Hawthorne wrote an archetypal story of shame called The Ministers Black Veil. In a brilliant display that is no less than a literary tour de force, Moody ties past and present, family legend, and serious scholarship into a book that will draw comparisons not just to recent memoirs by Dave Eggers and Martin Amis but to forebears like Nabokovs Speak, Memory.

Author Notes

Novelist Rick Moody was born in Fairfield, Connecticut on October 18, 1962. He is an undergraduate of Brown University and has a Master of Fine Arts Degree from Columbia University. Moody's works often demonstrate the concept that money makes no difference in the problems people face. His first novel, Garden State, won Pushcart's Tenth Annual Editor's Book Award. The Ice Storm (1994) was adapted into the 1997 film starring Kevin Kline and Sigourney Weaver. In 1999, The New Yorker chose him as one of America's most talented young writers, listing him on their "20 Writers for the 21st Century" list. He has also won the Addison Metcalf Award and has received a Guggenheim Fellowship.

Moody's memoir The Black Veil (2002) won the PEN/Martha Albrand Award for the Art of the Memoir. His other works include The Diviners and The Four Fingers of Death. In 2012 he won Fernanda Pivano Award in Italy.

Moody has taught at Yale University, Princeton University, the State University of New York at Purchase and Bennington College, and New York University.

(Bowker Author Biography)

Reviews 3

Booklist Review

Anyone who has read Moody's fine fiction (Purple America, 1997; Demonology, 2001) will recognize the voice here: painfully funny, heavily italicized, frequently obsessional, frequently riveting. His memoir covers the years of his early adulthood, when he was often depressed and regularly medicated himself with large amounts of alcohol and drugs. He eventually ended up in a psychiatric hospital, which helped him regain his footing. Convinced that his tendency toward melancholy is a family tradition, Moody researches his lineage, finding a kindred soul in Handkerchief Moody, on whom Hawthorne based his short story "The Minister's Black Veil" (all of Moody's chapter titles are taken from this story). This is no ordinary memoir because it seeks to meld the personal and the historical, not always successfully. You would be hard pressed to find a more accurate, more eloquent account of the first, hesitant attempts to find one's place in the world, which are often accompanied by confusion and loneliness. But Moody's obsession with his genealogy and the metaphoric implications of a veil (he even attempts to make and wear one that covers his face) is less compelling. He warns readers right up front: "Obsession has its blind spots, it is occasionally inexplicable, it is worrisome, it is amazing and sometimes charming." So is he. --Joanne Wilkinson

Publisher's Weekly Review

Moody's first foray into nonfiction is a curious amalgam of family history, literary criticism and recovery memoir. The title refers to Nathaniel Hawthorne's "The Minister's Black Veil," which, according to Moody, is based on the true tale of a Moody ancestor who wore a veil throughout his adult life as penance for accidentally killing his boyhood friend. Having this familial connection, Moody (The Ice Storm; Demonology; etc.) also links it to the sadness he experienced as an underpaid, overeducated 20-something searching for himself, first in San Francisco and later as a publishing assistant in New York. He alternates between explaining Hawthorne's story, describing trips to research his colonial-era paternal heritage and depicting how its legacy of apparent freakishness lives in him. In one bizarre episode, Moody confesses having had throughout much of his mid-20s a fear of being raped, an anxiety that eventually led to an alcoholic breakdown. Much of what Moody discovers in Maine graveyards, in old, coded diaries and in his delusions reinforces his own suspicions about a melancholic family inheritance. He's rarely straightforward, interweaving much of the book with occasionally cryptic passages by other authors, along with his own italicized commentary. This hybrid composition will surely enhance Moody's reputation as a thoughtful prose stylist, though he fends off the temptation of self indulging in the intense demands of self-scrutiny with an occasionally dry and strident tone. By the end of this daring experiment, it's clear that, even as the discoveries mount, forcing the veil of the past to fall away and revealing a sympathetic and sensitive man, Moody still hasn't managed to lose his angst. (May 6) Forecast: A 12-city tour to highlight the author's photogenic face and edgy image will help bump sales, but mostly to established fans. New readers will likely be left scratching their heads. Look for an interview with Moody in an upcoming issue. (c) Copyright PWxyz, LLC. All rights reserved

Library Journal Review

Moody (The Ice Storm, Demonology) has artfully crafted a genre-breaking standout that interweaves literary criticism and family myths with his own recovery from addiction and depression. After years of abusing drugs and alcohol, a twentysomething Moody checked himself into a psychiatric hospital in Queens, NY. When he reemerged, he realized that he didn't know himself and began to scratch the surface of his identity. Spurred by the hand-me-down tales that his grandfather told about a possible ancestor, Handkerchief Moody (the supposed basis for Nathaniel Hawthorne's The Minister's Black Veil), Moody traveled the roads of New England with his father to piece together their patrilineal genealogy. This engaging quest covers many miles and has myriad detours. With the same passion that he uses to explore his family history, Moody delves into linguistics, devoting whole chapters to the origins of words such as moody and veil. His lyrical phrases and wry sense of humor masterfully tie together unconventional observations and disparate threads about family history, headline news, and etymology. Though he communicates much about his life, Moody, like Hawthorne's character, shrouds his existence with a filmy veil. The characters in his life (including his father) are painted with quirky details but remain in the shadows, never fully drawn, and it is up to the reader to decide whether the author is at all related to Handkerchief Moody. Yet by using myth and truth, Moody sheds light on what lies beyond the black veil we all wear. Highly recommended. [Previewed in Prepub Alert, LJ 1/02.] Jeanne Larkins, New York (c) Copyright 2010. Library Journals LLC, a wholly owned subsidiary of Media Source, Inc. No redistribution permitted.

Table of Contents

Nathaniel Hawthorne
Prefacep. 3
Children, with bright faces, tript merrily beside their parents, or mimicked a graver gaitp. 11
The old people of the village came stooping along the streetp. 26
The topic, it might be supposed, was obvious enoughp. 42
Customers came in, as the forenoon advanced, but rather slowlyp. 54
Stooping somewhat and looking on the ground, as is customary with abstracted menp. 68
The deep pause of flagging spirits, that always follows mirth and winep. 76
In his case, however, the symbol had a different importp. 89
It takes off its face like a mask, and shows the grinning bare skeleton underneathp. 104
Mr. Hooper, face to face with his congregation, except for the black veilp. 120
If I had ever once been happy, methinks I could contentedly be shot to-dayp. 137
If it be a sign of mourning, I, perhaps, like most other mortals, have sorrows dark enoughp. 151
What is this world good for now that we can never be jolly anymorep. 176
I have suffered woefully from low spirits for some time pastp. 192
Every work, by an artist of celebrity, is hidden behind a veilp. 211
Had her eyes provoked, or assented to this deed? She had not known it. But, alas!p. 220
A veil may sometimes be needful, but never a masquep. 236
There being a heavy rain yesterday, a nest of swallows was washed down the chimneyp. 250
Hither coasters &c. and fishing smacks run in, when a storm is anticipatedp. 271
So far as I am a man of really individual traits, I veil my facep. 293
"The Minister's Black Veil"p. 305
Selected Bibliographyp. 319
Acknowledgmentsp. 325