July 23: “Demonology” by Rick Moody

Hello, Story366! Wow, do I have a lot to catch you up on. I came back from Cub Scout camp today, thusly ending Cub Scout Camp Week at Story366, and I really want to relay all kinds of stories about what went down, including the massive, heinous bug bite I found on my arm when I came home, how much water I drank, whether or not I got into a fight with another Cub Scout parent, and what it’s like, in general, to spend four days and three nights at an activity that’s geared toward seven-to-ten year olds. I know you’re at the edge of your seats.

I’m going to skip all that for today, however. It’s late. I’m tired. I covered in salves and lotions and bandages, and really, I want to watch a million clips from Comic-Con, and I want to sleep on a bed that doesn’t have a knotted tree root running through its middle. I have to catch up on my summer classes, mow the lawn, and spend time with the kid who didn’t go to camp, who seems happy that I’m home. I want to not hear crickets.

I also want to get back to Story366, to reading stories, to writing these posts. Before I left for camp, I had to get a few entries ahead, so Elizabeth Berg, David Vann, and Beth Helms‘ entries were done ahead of time, scheduled by the handy scheduling tool on WordPress, and then successfully posted by the magic of a wizard living inside my Mac. What this means is, it’s been since Tuesday since I’ve read a short story, since I’ve thought about stories, and I’ve missed it. After two hundred straight days and change of reading and discussing and then suddenly not doing that, it was strange. And by strange, I mean it was like not having my blanky to sleep with or my allergy meds (and actually, I had both).

Tonight, I got back on the horse with Rick Moody and the title story from his collection, Demonology. I’ve read a few of Moody’s books before, including The Ice StormPurple America, and The Ring of Brightest Angels Around Heaven, and had read a few stories from this book, including “Boys,” which is anthologized in that Scribners anthology I’ve been using since forever. I read a few more stories tonight—I really love Moody’s short fiction—and have settled on “Demonology,” which is the last story in the book as well as the title story.

“Demonology” seems like it’s going to be a story about Halloween. Moody sets the scene with a typical suburban trick-or-treating experience, nailing detail after detail of the ritual, practically deconstructing it. Kids wear costumes. They get candy. Parents talk on about this and that as they trail behind. Actually, Moody makes the whole thing sound kinda tired, and I was thinking, Wow, Rick Moody, who didn’t let you go trick-or-treating when you were a kid?

As I read on, I remembered that this is a story and just maybe, there’d be a reason for Moody to depict this sacred child’s right—and proven candy accumulation technique—as some run-of-the-mill tradition. There’s a voice going on here, one that Moody starts rolling down a hill, a voice that picks up steam and keeps going. The story continues with the kids—the narrator’s sister’s kids—returning home, clawing through their takes, calming down for bed. Slowly, the story changes its focus, however, to the sister, to the wall of photo albums, to pictures from previous Halloweens. All of a sudden, the tone changes from a really distant, sterile perspective to something considerably more nostalgic, the narrator describing old costumes, explaining their significance, adding anecdotes. Then the photo albums ease away from Halloween to shots of the sister in other situations, other memories. There are interspersed with more frontstory vignettes, what happens on All Saints Day (November 1), how life returns to normal for the sister’s family, the routines she returns to. She goes to work. She has lunch with a colleague. She drives home. We get some anecdotes from her past, from their past, hers and her narrator brother’s.

And before I knew it, “Demonology” became much more than a Halloween story, something I’m now questioning as a story, as fiction. I won’t tell you what I mean or go any further in the plot, but the narrative intent here is really important, to the story, to the narrator, and perhaps to Moody himself (some research just now confirms this). It’s unlike anything I’ve read before (in how it challenges genre) and is one of my favorite pieces I’ve written on this year, for a lot of reasons.

More on camp coming up in the next couple of days (unless that bite on my arm doesn’t get better …), but the Story366 streak lives on with Rick Moody’s tremendous “Demonology” from his tremendous collection Demonology. I’ve read upwards of four of his books now—which I can’t say about a lot of authors—making me a pretty legitimate fan (though I have some catching up to do). Perfect choice to get me back on track.

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One thought on “July 23: “Demonology” by Rick Moody

  1. Pingback: July 24: “More of This World or Maybe Another” by Barb Johnson – Story366

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