The Book That Made Me A Reader
Rick Moody on Samuel Beckett
Three Novels: Molloy, Malone, and The Unnamable by Samuel Beckett.
In freshman year of college, I was first exposed to Samuel Beckett's novel Murphy. For a guy who had mainly been reading science fiction and Irving/Cheever/Updike before then, this was quite an event (the class also featured Borges's Labyrinths and Gabriel Garcia Marquez's One Hundred Years of Solitude, so it was a very excellent class), which was followed not long after by my first attempt to read the Beckett "trilogy." By the end of the next year I had read most of the extant Beckett canon. As befitted my age at the time (eighteen to nineteen) what first attracted me to the trilogy was the startling isolation and alienation of the Beckett characters (Molloy in a ditch in Eire, Malone in bed, the unnamable God knows where), but by the end of the book I was beginning instead to understand something of the beauty of the prose, and of the limpid qualities of those Beckettian koans like, "I can't go on, I'll go on." It was some years before I found another writer who I loved as much, and when I did, in voices like Thomas Bernhard, Stanley Elkin, and Lydia Davis, they often had an interest in Beckett too. In this way, I sort of jumped the rails of American naturalist fiction. I just never again had the same taste for it. Beckett stripped away everything that was inessential in prose writing, leaving only faint traces of plot, character, and setting, and that freed me up for the American experimental writing of the sixties and seventies, and for the formalisms of the European novel post–World War II. What I love, these days, is the language, and the language in turns shapes the subject matter of the novels I admire. This is a feeling that comes straight from my early experiences in reading Beckett, some thirty years ago now.
Photo by Thatcher Keats
Rick Moody was born in New York City. He attended Brown and Columbia Universities. He is the author of four novels: The Four Fingers of Death, Purple America, The Ice Storm and Garden State, as well as an award-winning memoir and multiple collections of short fiction. Moody is the recipient of a Guggenheim fellowship, and his work has been anthologized in Best American Stories, Best American Essays, and the Pushcart Prize anthology. Moody lives in Brooklyn, New York.