I can remember the exact moment I fell in literary love with Rick Moody.
It was 2001 and, thanks to a friend, I had tickets to see Tobias Wolff read at The New Yorker festival. Wolff, who wrote one of my favorite memoirs, This Boy’s Life, was reading with an author I had heard of but never read.
The reading was in a windowless club, and I sat in the back toward the bar. I believe that Wolff read first, and it was wonderful. Then this man with a mop of floppy hair stepped up to the microphone and the most amazing short story I have ever heard: “Boys.” As his voice sang the words, gooseflesh blossomed on my skin. It’s a lyrical story of two brothers and how they grow together and apart. You can find it in his Demonology collection.
After that night, I read the rest of the stories in his collection. I read his novels. When it came out, I read his memoir, The Black Veil, (and delighted over the places where our lives intersected). I often end up reading passages two or three times. His use of language is so beautiful and masterful that sometimes I wouldn’t catch the meaning at all because I was so immersed in the prose. He stacks words on top of each other so that they are perfect not only for their meaning but also their sound and the cumulative effect.
He’s an author I can’t read while I’m writing a first draft, because instead of my own voice I create pale echoes of his. It’s a summer read, a vacation read, not because it’s light, but because I need to the time to revel in the writing. Yet as I read, I am always a bit sad: If only I could write like this. If only.