Sunday, August 28, 2005

Silverblatt, Moody, and “The Stench of Fiction”

One of my favorite readers in the universe is Michael Silverblatt, whose radio show, Bookworm, has years worth of awesome free archives (and podcasting now, too!). The way Silverblatt reacts to books is the way I aspire to: he doesn’t exactly “review,” he doesn’t look for “value.” His assumption appears to be that the work is valuable, and his questions to authors circle around the metaphors and patterns and messages of the work, as well as the writer’s process. His approach to a book is a collaborative one, he reads deeply, and brings himself and his own thoughts to the text. I just adore him.

He has three archived interviews with Rick Moody, which I return to often; Moody’s take on craft is so instructive. Moody’s essay on mentors in The Atlantic’s annual fiction issue inspired me to re-listened to these archived shows, and fell in love all over again with the most recent, a discussion of Moody’s sort-of-memoir THE BLACK VEIL, among other things.

THE BLACK VEIL is Moody’s meditation on America, his own literary heritage, and in particular an ancestor, “Handkerchief” Moody, a New Englander who covered his face with a veil to express his shame. The ancestor-Moody was immortalized in a Hawthorne story, and is a means for Rick Moody (and Silverblatt) to explore the ideas of veils, shame, and fiction.

In the interview, Silverblatt reads the closing paragraph of Moody’s award-winning short story “Demonology,” which dispenses with the fourth wall entirely, giving a litany of “shoulds” on how best to write about his sister’s death: “I should fictionalize it more, I should conceal myself. I should consider the responsibilities of characterization...I should make Meredith’s death shapely and persuasive, not blunt and disjunctive…I should address her here directly (these are the ways I miss you)…”

(It’s a beautiful, long-sentence, true-Moody paragraph and I’m ruining it by quoting fragments and dropping in elipses instead of commas. There’s no substitute for hearing it, or reading the whole story.)

Silverblatt reacts to the passage by circling back to the veil:

It feels as if these are something of the pulls of your writing recently: the impulse to tear away the veil that makes something into fiction, and one's equal impulse that without it, it hasn't been fiction.

Yeah, you know Brad Morrow said this thing to me a little while ago about how he could always see fiction coming, and that it had this certain reek. He referred to it as the "stench of fiction." What I think he meant was that there are certain codes, you know, in the well-made, conventional, contemporary fiction that you can see a mile off. And when you see those codes, you just kinda want to do something violent to stir the pot up. You know? So what I think I'm doing is that I'm spinning around the spot that's the very fundamental origin of what literature is right now. This sort of constant, circular orbiting energy around how do we treat of our time here on the planet, do we write about it directly, or do we strategize? Do I have to be perverse in the sense that I have to find some trope in order to express what I have to express? Or can I just express the thing? Well, turns out that you can't solve the problem somehow. It's kind of a loop, I find, and an incredibly fertile one for me.

And the interview closes with Moody reading another litany (he’s so good at that) from THE BLACK VEIL. I’m so glad these two minds are on the planet and having this discussion in a place where I can hear it. Makes me want to "do something violent to stir the pot up" too, dive into this "loop" and feel the spin.

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