Liberty hysteria of the boom-time rats

<i>Demonology</i> by Rick Moody (Faber &amp; Faber, &pound;10.99, 306pp)
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The Independent Culture

In his recent book Bobos in Paradise, social commentator David Brooks identified the new privileged class of "Bobos": an uneasy "balance of bourgeois and bohemian", affluent people who spend their lives selling yet worry about selling out. They have "ever finer tastes about ever more simple things" and "buy the same items as the proletariat - it's just that they buy rarefied versions of these items".

In his recent book Bobos in Paradise, social commentator David Brooks identified the new privileged class of "Bobos": an uneasy "balance of bourgeois and bohemian", affluent people who spend their lives selling yet worry about selling out. They have "ever finer tastes about ever more simple things" and "buy the same items as the proletariat - it's just that they buy rarefied versions of these items".

"Drawer", one of the stories in Rick Moody's excellent new collection, is an extended cry of despair from a man who cannot understand why his wife insists on calling a chest of drawers an armoire. So he takes a crowbar to it; a Sears deluxe crowbar with life-time warranty.

Over three novels, Rick Moody has built up a reputation as a fierce chronicler of suburban anomie, placing the serrated edge of his prose on the soft underbelly of the middle-class elite. The literary imperative to head-butt the bourgeoisie is a sport as old as civilisation, but Moody plays an awesome game, full of fire and thrust and inconsolable rage.

The novella here, "The Carnival Tradition", is an inspired narrative rap about a female dancer who aspires to the Greenwich Village art set but who is floundering in the urban riptide. She is comfortable living off her parents' money but discomfited by the choices it can afford. She is even barred entry to her flat by a couple of feral dogs. They prompt Moody to pinpoint the flaw in her universe. The dogs are suffering from what animal psychologists refer to as "liberty hysteria", where they "run up and down the street... unknowing, anxious, deprived of the strategic constraint of home". They are, like her, confused and unpredictable. The cry-freedom of her baby-boomer parents, the emancipation of wealth, has left her emotionally homeless.

This vagrancy of the soul has characters searching for resolution. In "The Mansion on the Hill", a young man whose sister has been killed in a car crash on the eve of her wedding takes a job with a wedding planning business as a way of making sense of bereavement until, disfigured by grief, he flings his sister's ashes over a couple: "every marriage is a ceremony into which calamity will fall". But he reflects that "behind rage (and behind grief) is the ambition to love".

Despite the melancholy, Moody can be mordantly funny. And he is blade-sharp with one-liners: a car in a collision "rumpled like an expensive suit after an evening of embraces"; soft rock music is like "a perfumed glob of used toilet tissue". There is tenderness beneath the cool polish of irony, and his merciless depiction of kids coming apart is not without a profound sense of sympathy. The superb stories in Demonology are fevered in their invention and energy. They take a wild delight taken in drawing a nail along the artifice of life's elegant surface.

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