Rick Moody: “You can see a big fault line running through the book — the before and the after.”

From The Writer’s Almanac:

It’s the birthday of novelist Rick Moody, born in New York City in 1961. He had a privileged childhood in the Connecticut suburbs. He traces his passion for writing to his first experience with Hemingway: reading The Old Man and the Sea in sixth grade. “I probably liked the Hemingway novel because I was very interested in sharks. That was enough back then, the mere appearance in the story of sharks. Maybe I started writing just because I liked sharks. The really grisly ones. The kind that could bite a man in half.”

He went to an elite boarding school in New Hampshire, where he became enamored with short stories by John Cheever. But then his parents got divorced, and he started doing drugs. He rebelled against everything that he associated with his middle-class suburban upbringing, including John Cheever. He said, “The mention of Cheever and any of his ilk was enough to provoke in me tirades about conformism and hypocrisy and oppression.”. . .

He had a breakdown when he was 25 years old, working on his first novel. He had too much cocaine and alcohol in his system and was experiencing frightening hallucinations, so he checked himself into a psychiatric hospital. After he left, it took him six months before he could write again because he was so used to drinking while he wrote. He eventually finished his novel, which he published in 1992 as Garden State, a story of lost 20-somethings in suburban New Jersey. He said that his breakdown is visible in the novel: “You can see a big fault line running through the book — the before and the after. I think it’s a truly dreadful book but it’s emotionally accessible and vulnerable and I admire that.” It was turned into a cult-favorite movie starring Zach Braff and Natalie Portman in 2004.

Some critics complained that Moody didn’t know enough about New Jersey or about working-class 20-somethings to write Garden State. So he wrote The Ice Storm in 1994, about one Thanksgiving weekend in the life of two dysfunctional, privileged, suburban Connecticut families in 1973. His most recent book is Hotels of North America.

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