In the Obama Moment: Rick Moody

The novelist Rick Moody is one measure of what has changed. He has been known as a generational figure, the “wrathful” child of the fiction he grew up reading, “striking a blow,” as he puts it in conversation, for the children of John Updike’s Rabbit Angstrom. “Rabbit treats his children so despicably, you know, and the kids in the Cheever books don’t get off so well either.”

Rick Moody has lived 40 of his 47 years in the peculiar public and private distemper that Rick Perlstein calls “Nixonland.” But early in the new year, within a month or so of the Obama inauguration, Rick Moody will become a father for the first time in his life — his own proof that we can all grow up sooner or later, that perspectives can shift.

My prejudice in this conversation, and the next one with Robert Coover, is that “novelists get there first,” in their feeling for what’s developing. We touch here on comic novels, the publishing meltdown, Moody’s own musical ambitions with his modernist folk band, Barack Obama’s Dreams from My Father, what’s missing in blogs, and “white guys from Connecticut.”

I live in Brooklyn now, and I’ll give you two examples of what I see — totally anecdotal — as a beginning of a change of attitude in my city. The first was right after 911. I was just coming back from Washington about a day and a half later. I was riding the subway, and there was a bi-racial couple sitting across from me, a Jamaican guy of African descent and his white girlfriend. And the Jamaican guy was singing softly to himself, and as they were getting up to get off the train, the guy got up, walked across the aisle to me, and kissed me — for no reason. I was just sitting there. Everybody in this whole car was thinking — this is the B train, and it’s going to go over the Manhattan Bridge right past the smoking remains of the Trade Center buildings. It was all people were thinking about, but what they were thinking about at the moment was: this stuff that was taking place in this city for 30 years prior to this moment can’t be sustained. We can’t keep living like this — you know, at one another, red in tooth and claw about our differences and our violent distaste for one another.

The second thing I’d say was the night of the election, in Brooklyn. It was unbelievable. It made New Year’s Eve look like a dry run. It really was all these people feeling optimism and tremendous relief that we didn’t have to play out this ‘I’ve got more money than you’ and ‘Fuck you!’ Maybe that’s done for a while.

CL: I always thik of you, Rick Moody, as a child not only of so much fiction you’ve read, but of all the fictionists of the mid-century — son of Cheever, son of Updike, son of Mailer and Roth, or whatever. As you grow up and outgrow those emotions of childhood and the “wrath” that Thomas Pynchon celebrates in your work, what’s the next perspective?

RM: The truth is I’m about to have my first child in a couple of months. My wife is pregnant. In looking back at my career it’s really obvious to me that there was an intergenerational, Oedipal, parricidal rage undergirding a lot of those early books. I felt when I was writing The Ice Storm that I was striking a blow for Rabbit Angstrom’s children. That was uppermost in my mind. Rabbit treats his children so despicably, you know, and the kids in the Cheever books don’t get off so well either. They’re just chattel, just something to be moved around from story to story. So I felt like I wanted to say what it felt like to grow up with these Swinging Sixties parents and organizational men of the Fifties and Sixties…

CL: The ‘phallocrats,’ as David Foster Wallace called them.

RM: But I think that work is done. And Wallace is a good example, because I think with the publication of Infinite Jest in 1997, things really tilted around to my generation a little bit. It’s also true that we are now ineluctably middle-aged adults and our responsibility is to try to reflect more points of view and more kinds of psychology — the culture of the whole, if possible, from this vantage point that we have now. I can’t anymore just write about my generation or just about upper-middle-class white guys from the suburbs. I feel this may be an Obama perspective, this responsibility to try to have all kinds of characters in my work.

Related Content