Let Artifice Create an Elegant Surface:

On Rick Moody’s “Demonology”

Trey Strecker

Celebrated for its stylistic energy and linguistic exuberance, Rick Moody’s fiction burrows inward on our fractured lives of quiet desperation. David Foster Wallace and others have argued that contemporary American fiction must move beyond the cool detachment of self-conscious irony toward a new post-ironic sincerity that reestablishes “the idea of art being a living transaction between humans” (“An Interview” 142). Acutely aware of the powerful ways in which narratives arrange “the texture of our lives” (Demonology 26), Moody’s work rewards readers because it engages both the head and the heart.

In the title piece from Demonology, Moody appears to lower the metafictive mask when he writes the devastating story of his sister’s sudden death. Told from the first-person point of view, the story develops through a series of fragmentary photographic scenes that cannot be arranged into a coherent narrative to explain Meredith’s unexpected death. Shunning figurative language and literary pyrotechnics, narrator-Moody laments that “I should fictionalize it more. I should conceal myself. . . . I should let artifice create an elegant surface. . .” (305-6). Self-conscious and sincere, Moody rejects solipsistic performance, deploying his metafictional moves in the service of human interaction as his art confronts “the process by which sober truth gradually strips off all the beautiful draperies with which imagination has enveloped a beloved object, till from an angel she turns out to be a merely ordinary woman” (The Black Veil 44).

Grief-stricken and traumatized by his sister’s sudden seizure and brutalized by blind chance, narrator-Moody recognizes that the structures of fiction offer little solace against “the heft, bruise, and hopeless muddle of the world’s irreducible particulars” (Powers 601). As he reaches “the intolerable part of this story,” narrator-Moody steps outside the event: “. . . I should make the events more orderly . . . I shouldn’t clutter a narrative with fragments . . . I should make Meredith’s death shapely and persuasive, not blunt and disjunctive . . .” (Demonology 301, 306). Moody’s dropping the guise of fiction is itself a fiction: through his carefully crafted representation of an event he did not witness—an event “purely embroidered by a devastated but still very active imagination” (Dewey 40)—readers experience an unironic moment of genuine feeling and vulnerability. As Susan Strehle notes, “making the author visible, personal, and active inside the text removes the artist’s mystified authority over it” (221). Note similar metafictive gestures in Wallace’s “Good Old Neon” and William T. Vollmann’s “Under the Grass.”

Thus, Moody surrenders the safe distance of ironic detachment that metafiction allows. Ultimately unable or unwilling to “make our travels in this earthly landscape safe and secure. . .” (306), placing himself inside the frame of the story permits Moody to express his confusion and inexplicable sense of loss without reducing or simplifying these feelings. Not the secret operator of a Barthian funhouse, Moody “risk[s] accusations of sentimentality” in order to confront death’s relentless randomness (Wallace, “E Unibus Pluram” 81).

Works Cited

Dewey, Joseph. “Rick Moody.” The Review of Contemporary Fiction 23.2 (Summer 2003): 7-49.

Moody, Rick. Demonology. Boston: Little, Brown, 2000.

---. The Black Veil: A Memoir with Digressions. Boston: Little, Brown, 2002.

Powers, Richard. The Gold Bug Variations. New York: Morrow, 1991.

Strehle, Susan. Fiction in the Quantum Universe. Chapel Hill: U of North Carolina P, 1992.

Wallace, David Foster. “An Interview with David Foster Wallace.” By Larry McCaffery.

The Review of Contemporary Fiction 13.2 (Summer 1993): 127-150.

---. “E Unibus Pluram: Television and U. S. Fiction.” A Supposedly Fun Thing I’ll

Never Do Again: Essays and Arguments. Boston: Little, Brown, 1997. 21-82.