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Reading Group Guide

Discussion Questions

The Black Veil: A Memoir With Digressions

1. The secrets encoded in lineage are essential to Rick Moody's examination of himself in The Black Veil. How does the author's desire for connection with his father and grandfather relate to his desire for a genealogical link to Handkerchief Moody?

2. The veil is one of the book's most salient symbols. What does it stand for? Identify various veils that we use today and describe our purposes in using them; for example, to conceal our shame, or to keep ourselves apart from others.

3. The Black Veil details a history of suffering — not just Rick Moody's own depression and alcoholism, but the difficulties of his ancestors, family members, friends, and lovers. Why do you think that suffering, a condition familiar to all people, so frequently breeds loneliness and alienation?

4. How is The Black Veil different from other memoirs you've read? Discuss the author's intent in embracing both style and subject matter that are unusual by the genre's standards.

5. What do you make of the author's incorporation of Nathaniel Hawthorne, one of the first truly American canonical writers, into the book? Is Rick Moody recognizing his debt to Hawthorne? Positioning himself as one of Hawthorne's literary heirs? Neither? Both?

6. What do the book's structure and narrative style say about Rick Moody's identity, and the way in which we all forge our identities? Do we discover ourselves in fits and starts, by accident?

7. What do you suspect was behind Rick Moody's decision to write a memoir after writing many works of fiction? Do you think that writing an autobiographical work can lead to a deeper knowledge of yourself? Do you think it's a catharsis?

8. Rick Moody's distinctive style sets him apart from most other contemporary writers. In fact, many people have said his writing more closely resembles poetry or music than conventional prose. What do you think? Are there any artists, musicians, poets, or other writers whose work you would compare to Rick Moody's?

9. Melancholy and alcoholism are two of the oldest literary associations — from the dark clouds following Shakespearean characters to the notoriety of Hemingway and Fitzgerald. In what ways does Moody's account of his experiences with depression and addiction comment on the vast heritage that he is becoming a part of? Does he come to any conclusions?

10. Rick Moody has suggested that, rather than "a memoir," The Black Veil is: "A book. A think. An encyclopedia. A catalogue. A brushfire. A building collapse. A think tank. A prose poem. A deed of sale. A crie de coeur. A lost cause. A dampened enthusiasm. A night of the living dead. A soldiering on. An all-hopes-lost. A listing to one side. A breath of fresh air. A crown of thorns. A land of enchantments. An American notebook." What justifies describing the book in this fashion? How is The Black Veil a work that evades categorization?

The Black Veil: A Memoir With Digressions
by Rick Moody

  • Publication Date: May 12, 2003
  • Genres: Nonfiction
  • Paperback: 323 pages
  • Publisher: Back Bay Books
  • ISBN-10: 0316739014
  • ISBN-13: 9780316739016