Reviewed by Joel Bahr

Published 2014 by Outpost19 | San Francisco
ISBN 9781937402624

“Everyone thinks a lot of things are going to happen,” the narrator tells Moody Fellow, the central character in Douglas Watson’s A Moody Fellow Finds Love and Then Dies, “but only some of them do.”

Indeed, the conventional workings of novels—a problem resolved, or a lesson learned, or a redemption made good—don’t ever come into play in Watson’s first novel. The title is a dare of sorts. Watson tips his hand from jump street, and pulls the reader along in direct, stripped bare prose as he slowly teases out Moody’s origins, his failures (and eventual success) in love, and, ultimately, his death.

A Moody Fellow is quick and easy, a fairytale telling of an ordinary life, one where the fourth wall is broken so regularly that it’s reduced to rubble by the time Moody meets his messy end, but I’m getting ahead of myself.

In the novel’s pages, we follow Moody from childhood to college and eventually into the unnamed City. It’s a sparse world, and for a majority of the book we only see Moody fail. He is earnest and too nice for women to love as he bounces from one unfulfilling place to another. Throughout the book Moody sits at a piano, though untrained, and produces wild, erratic concertos from his heart. A strange girl sees him play one night, and takes him into his arms, eventually bringing Moody the love he seeks.

A few other characters dart in and out of the novel—a woman so beautiful that men (and birds, too) catch sight of her beauty and fall down dead at her feet; her insecure boyfriend; an artist who produces statues of cubes; a psychiatrist who worries about his wife’s infidelity—but primarily the novel is Moody’s, and he fills it with sincerity and false starts.

The novel evokes a sense of waiting. While the fairytale feel opens the door for profundity, either from Moody or the narrator, it never really comes. The closest we come to it is in the book’s waning pages where Moody is pulled from the dictation of his life to have a conversation—an exit interview—with the narrator.

Moody, upon being informed of his impending death, protests, “But I’m in love!” only to be undercut by the narrator. “So what? So are billions of others.” The only redemption for Moody is found in knowing that he had been loved before dying—a gift not granted to all. And the novel, which ultimately is a love story of a quiet, ordinary life, is also redeemed by Moody’s romantic. While there may have been a sense of expectancy because of the form of the novel, the real trick here is that sometimes—in both art and life—things don’t go as we expect them to. If the title of the book is a dare, a challenge to watch things unfold exactly as they were promised, then those readers who follow through can pull some satisfaction from knowing that Moody, who has loved and been loved, gets a happier ending than some.

In his exit interview, Moody asks “Shouldn’t I have to make some kind of big definitive choice or screw something up and then try to fix it?”But life has a way of not being art, the narrator reminds Moody, and after Moody offers a truism on love (“It’s something you go out and look for in the world, I think, but it’s really inside you, is what I would say if pressed.”) the narrator dabs a magic ointment behind his ears and sweeps away any memory of the conversation.

A Moody Fellow is a work that imitates the majority of normal life—full of disappointments and misunderstandings. Pages turn quickly, lulling readers into a world that resembles a life they’re familiar with, but novel has a strange gravity to it. For those who stick it through, they’ll find there is no ointment behind their ears, and in the days after tucking Moody Fellow away they’ll notice him lingering in their mind.


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