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Sunday, September 23, 2007

Moody and Beard


I love all the back-to-schoolishness of fall - the fresh lure of the city, the piles of adult education catalogs, new beginnings in the form of concerts, museums, lectures... So it was that I decided to attend a reading at Rutgers-Newark which, according to Mapquest, turned out to be only eleven minutes away. Who knew?
I hadn't heard of Jo Ann Beard, but I've enjoyed what I've read of Rick Moody. Rutgers has introduced a brand new MFA graduate writing program, and this event seemed intended to dazzle - get things off to a flying start. Beard read first from a new and unfinished work called "Calypso". Nobody wanted it to end. Moody followed with a piece called "She Forgot", written from the point of view of a middle-aged man visiting his institutionalized Alzheimers-afflicted mother. A story? Novella? It could pass for a poem. He reads with a deeply resonant voice and mesmerizing cadence. Of course I wanted more. Here's what I'm reading.
Beard has published (as far as I know) just this one book, The Boys of My Youth. It's billed as a collection of autobiographical "essays", but when questioned on the point, admitted that there was plenty of fiction therein. They're "essays" primarily because they were mostly written in a nonfiction class at the graduate writing program at Iowa. Good stuff.
Right Livelihoods, Moody's latest, is a trio of satiric novellas The first of the three, The Omega Force, takes place on a private island very much like Fisher's Island, where the author lives part time. It is true, for those of you who are unaware of the status quo here, that there is virtually no way to visit our island if you are not already here...Who would not care to see the affluent and well-connected families of the oligarchy at play ... Who would not wish to banter or shoot the breeze with oligarchs in the context of luxuriant cocktail party soirees? The narrator is a 73-year old retired government official who, lost in an alcoholic haze, imagines that terrorists are plotting to overtake the island. It's hilarious.
Not yet finished with either (who ever reads just one book at a time?) but I know I can recommend both without hesitation.

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