Bizarre content and rhetorical overkill are the salient features of this oddball gathering of 13 short fictions (some aren’t precisely stories), by the young author of Purple America (1997) and The Ice Storm (1994), among others.
Moody’s characters are casualties of various culture and gender wars, whose private battles are recounted in bursts of staccato sentence fragments ripe with the effluvia of psychic dislocation and sexual dysfunction, danced to a heavy thrum of rock music–backed antic despair. Scarcely developed premises mar several stories (“Hawaiian Night,” “Drawer,” “Boys”) that aren’t much more than, well, moody prose poems. Vagrant forms are employed by “Pan’s Fair Throng,” a faux (and rather arch) fantasy written to accompany a painter-friend’s exhibit; “Wilkie Ridgeway Fahnstock, The Boxed Set,” in which liner notes for an audiocassette package reveal the farcically wasted life of a poor little rich boy undone by “his countercultural personal habits”; and “Surplus Value Books: Catalogue Number 13,” an annotated listing whose contents amusingly express the truculent daydreams and hang-ups of a sardonic woman book dealer (one longs for a glimpse at that cookbook reputedly authored by J.D. Salinger). “The Double Zero” reimagines Sherwood Anderson’s classic tale of failed midwestern enterprise (“The Egg”); and the kindred spirits, if not influences of, T. Coraghessan Boyle and Rick De Marinis are observable in distaff portrayals of a feisty woman fed up with her smug Lacanian-intellectual lover (“Ineluctable Modality of the Vaginal”) and a minor L.A. actress (who specializes in “well-paying but shallow roles in commercials”) caught up in teen-gang crossfire at a local McDonald’s (“Carousel”). Authentic emotion replaces arbitrary weirdness only in the opening and closing pieces, tragicomic farces spun from their possible deeply personal animating ideas: the death of a beloved sister, and how best to appropriately memorialize and honor it.
An infuriatingly uneven second collection (after The Ring of Brightest Angels Around Heaven, 1995) whose chaotic feel and flow prove both seductive and alienating. Moody marches on, to the beat of a drummer so different many readers may be unable to hear it at all.