‘The Long Accomplishment’: An Eye-Popping, Cathartic Read
Rick Moody’s new book presents itself as a memoir of marriage: a detailed gaze into the workings of being a spouse. But the truth is, it’s the story of a terrible, horrible, no-good, very bad year, a year in which many bizarre things happen and Moody must adapt to grace and disaster alike. It’s a remarkably well-executed book, carefully and smartly written, thoughtful enough to appeal and sprinkled with just enough insufferability to be realistic. The condition of Moody’s inner life gets worse as strangely and disastrously as Lord Macbeth’s does, which makes it an eye-popping, cathartic read.
The Long Accomplishment opens in 2013. Moody acquires a postcard bearing the signature of Charles Manson, a curiosity he doesn’t think much about at the time. He also leaves his first marriage and embarks upon a relationship with his now-wife, the photographer and filmmaker Laurel Nakadate. Other aspects of Moody’s life are in transition: his living situation, his creative work, the health of his family members.
Across the year that follows, bad luck plagues Moody and his loved ones, ranging from hassles with assisted living up to and including the sudden death of a child in his orbit. “It was easy on occasion to feel like we were in a Kleist story, in which nothing caused anything exactly, but there was poignancy at every turn, all of it obscure, hard to interpret, explosive.” Finally, in the fall of 2014, he rids himself of the postcard. One more burst of terrible fortune follows in October, and then, apparently, he gets free, and the memoir ends.
A Special Consciousness
Although “the year of the Charles Manson autographed postcard” structures the book, reducing the reading experience to that structure does the book a disservice. The fabric of the memoir is Moody’s special consciousness, his foibles and habits, his addictive past and the fragility of his hope for the future. He sews that consciousness seamlessly, invisibly into the events of the year, including a detailed explanation of his time as the subject of an Odyssey Works performance, meditation on a suicide he likely could not have prevented (it wasn’t your fault, Rick, really), and a characteristic Park Slope incident involving toxic floor varnish.
Centrally, Moody writes about the fertility struggle he and Laurel undergo between 2013 and 2015. Perhaps these stories are growing more common in today’s literature, but I can’t think of a male heterosexual writer who has written about IUI and IVF at such length, and with such anguish and honesty. That alone makes this book unusual, and worthwhile.
Wisdom and ego vie subtly for supremacy throughout The Long Accomplishment. Moody has made a lot of mistakes and is aware of them, but I wish he’d been a little more conscious of how the privileges of his life look to someone outside his semi-WASPy orbit. Some of his traits are of the kind a spouse may find endearing, and an observer may find unbearable. Still, he has a sense of humor about himself:
“I always underreact at first in a crisis…If a neighbor came running into my apartment with an arm severed but for a single strand of tendon, trailing a pool of blood, I would probably say, Let’s think about this for a second. And then I would help my friend to the couch, and make us both a sandwich. I might do this before getting a tourniquet.” Moody’s arch wit alternates with modulated truth-telling and unique sentence rhythms to form a writerly voice that’s all his own, which, take it from someone who’s read at least a hundred books this year, is a rare glory. The result is a beautiful, strange, funny book that feels like a real event in the reader’s life, like something she can talk about and think about for some time instead of letting go of it immediately.
“A marriage is a sequence of stories you tell about yourselves, to yourselves sometimes, in order to encourage the marriage to signify, to stand for something,” Moody writes. The marriage at the heart of The Long Accomplishment endures, and signifies, to be sure. But although he portrays his wife vibrantly, the real purpose and propulsion of the book is Moody: his personality, his struggles, his philosophy. Through that lens, he covers loss, joy, God, man, and all kinds of ideas and experiences between and behind these larger themes. It may not offer perfect counsel or a particularly new perspective on life as we know it, but it describes, with great facility and craft, a pretty unforgettable year.
(Deckle Edge, August 6, 2019)