THE LONG ACCOMPLISHMENT: A Memoir of Hope and Struggle by Rick Moody. Henry Holt and Co., 320 pp, $25
“Unending sorrows are bad enough, but are they not compounded by writing about them? Why is it that I needed to write about these unending sorrows, these wastes that stretched out in front of us?” Rick Moody poses this question in an epilogue to “The Long Accomplishment,” a month-by-month chronicle of the travails faced by him and his newlywed wife, photographer Laurel Nakadate, between October 2013 and October 2014. Many of these sorrows are relatively ordinary — infertility, New York apartment issues, friends dying, parents aging — but the couple were pummeled with a true onslaught of them, and then there was a certifiable disaster in the final month.
Moody’s answer to his own question is that “trouble wants to be shared, contextualized, so that it can be understood, so that it might be avoided again.” The phrasing of this, locating the agency in the trouble itself, rather than the writer, is interesting. He’s saying he had to do it, it was out of his hands — as if the trouble itself wanted to make sure he would be able to avoid it next time. I don’t know about that, but I am quite familiar, as both a writer and a reader, with the irresistible urge to exorcise one’s miseries by committing them to the page. Just about every contemporary memoir is a catalog of woes. And the success of books like "The Glass Castle," "Running With Scissors," "The Year of Magical Thinking" and last year’s "Educated" proves that reading about someone else’s problems is something people will flock in droves to do. And why is that?
If the bad thing chronicled in a particular memoir has not happened to you, there is schadenfreude of being spared. “Thank God I haven’t had to deal with THAT.” If you are a fellow sufferer, there’s the solace of hearing your trouble described, and learning how it was overcome, or at least ended some way or another. Moody eloquently documents the ordeal of in vitro fertilization, particularly the male side of it. “You take the vitamins, you get accustomed to the heavily thumbed pornography in the little closets, you comfort your wife through the wild mood swings of her meds, and you pray for a quick end to a thing that is not going to end quickly at all.” Similarly, those who have had to deal with extremely entitled neighbors, those who have watched a beloved person descend into senility, those who have seen their guitar for sale on eBay: all may find comfort here.
There are some annoying things about this book, to be sure. Moody has numerous talented and well-known friends, and there is nothing he loves more than to name them and sing their praises. At the top of the list is his wife, who entered his life after a bad first marriage and a long series of hookups. He truly cannot shut up about her. There are moments when this is touching and inspiring and others when it is just too much. The peak of the too-muchness comes in a three-page section where he analyzes their artistic influences on each other. This should have been left for someone’s doctoral dissertation, preferably someone other than the author.
Moody’s previous memoir, "The Black Veil," was the victim of one of the meanest reviews ever written, courtesy of fellow novelist Dale Peck. Moody was brave to venture into these waters again, but according to the epilogue, trouble made him do it. And while it’s not likely that “The Long Accomplishment” will join the all-stars mentioned above, it is a worthy addition to this year’s crop of woe catalogs. May it help us all avoid trouble next time it comes around.