- Rick Moody is the worst writer of his generation.
I apologize for the abruptness of this declaration, its lack of nuance, of any meaning besides the intuitive; but as I made my way through Moody's oeuvre during the past few months I was unable to come up with any other starting point for a consideration of his accomplishment. Or, more accurately, every other starting point that I tried felt disingenuous, nothing more than a way of setting Moody up in order to knock him down. One of those starting points was this: "Rick Moody is a lot of things, but he is not actually dumb." This was an attempt at charity, and though I still think that it's true enough, I don't think that it matters; at any rate, his intelligence does not make up for the badness of his books. Another attempt: "In his breakthrough novel The Ice Storm, Rick Moody evinces a troubling fascination with adolescent sexual organs that is partially explained in his latest book, The Black Veil, a so-called 'memoir with digressions.'" Again, the observation strikes me as correct. The problem here was in assuming that what most readers think of as the subject of a story has any role in a Moody project beyond giving his tangled prose something to wrap itself around, the way a vine will wrap itself around the nearest thing to hand, be it trellis, tree, or trash.
Yet another false start: "The Black Veil is the worst of Rick Moody's very bad books." Here the first mistake was in focusing on the books themselves, which bear the same relationship to Moody's career as his subjects do to his prose: the former come across as little more than a prop for the latter, incidental, interchangeable. Moreover, Garden State, Moody's first book—despite his citing "the proposition put forth by a vocal minority: that Garden State is my best novel"—is, in fact, even worse than The Black Veil; and "The Black Veil is the second worst of Rick Moody's very bad books" just doesn't have the same ring to it.
Stop reading here if you are looking for a calm dissection of the work of Hiram Frederick Moody III. At this point, the use of the diminutive "Rick" is about the only wise decision that I am willing to give him credit for. The plain truth is that I have stared at pages and pages of Moody's prose and they remain as meaningless to me as the Korean characters that paper the wall of a local restaurant. Actually, the comparison is not particularly apt, because I know that the Korean writing means something, but I am not convinced that Moody's books are about anything at all. In fact, it is only when I consider The Black Veil stripped of any pretense to content that I can ascribe it a measure of objecthood—not as the diagnostic, hermeneutical genealogy that it purports to be, but rather as the latest in what I have come to regard as a series of imitations or echoes of Moody's more talented, or at any rate more authentically individual, peers.