Author: Douglas Watson
Douglas Watson’s A Moody Fellow Finds Love and Then Dies follows the protagonist Moody Fellow so closely on his heels that when we finally seem to catch up with him, he dies. The novel chronicles Moody’s brief life, following him from one lovelorn incident to another, in which he searches for the love he saw in books, a love he thought that always “brought out the best in people.” Watson gradually introduces a constellation of characters whose independent lives in some way drive Moody into the circumstances of his early death, just when he’s found love with a quirky girl named Kate. All of this is essentially spelled out in the novel’s title, a charming narrative and framing device that propels the novel forward to Moody’s ultimate demise. As the narrator says: “Poor Moody. He really wasn’t cut out for the world as we know it.”
There is so much to enjoy about his novel, but the narrative voice really carries it from beginning to end. It is at times snarky, lively, and ominous, but always sharp and on point. Too often we see authors going too far with spirited voices like this, but Watson’s narrator is controlled and concise. Never does the voice overwhelm the reader, even at its most playful: “The point is, Moody was becoming himself, or the most up-to-date version thereof. Which was all to the good. Yet he was as lonely as an involuntary hermit on the north face of the world’s most godforsaken mountain. Come down off that mountain, Moody! Come to the lowlands and join, if you can find it, the party.” This type of voice causes the reader to conspire with the narrator about Moody’s future, and leaves us feeling more fully informed about his life than Moody is.
It also lends a certain tragedy to Moody’s story that we come to see is really everyone’s story—how no one can predict his or her exit from this world. This is certainly not to say that A Moody Fellow is entirely reliant on voice alone, however. Watson’s prose is at times beautiful and haunting, with memorable images, particularly when he describes the nature surrounding Moody, like when as a boy Moody thinks about the creek near his house, “whose babbling, although it was exactly like the babbling of any other creek in the world, seemed to Moody an original song meant just for him.” Even as a young man traveling with Kate to the beach where she scattered her parents’ ashes, Moody’s life is peppered with Watson’s lovely descriptions: “The sunlight leapt as though joyfully off the curved face of each small wave as it rose and then fell sighing onto the rocks.” The playful voice isn’t absent in such images as these as if Watson needed to pause for a moment to describe the scenery. Rather, these images are distilled through the lively voice and transformed into something unique and grounded.
In Watson’s collection of characters in A Moody Fellow, Amanda is the only other person to have her own chapters besides Moody himself, and it is fitting, considering her role. Amanda is a character so beautiful that her looks actually kill people, sometimes dozens at a time, as on her thirtieth birthday: “the party was a massacre.” Watson cleverly utilizes Amanda to further Moody’s life along, and the readers can especially enjoy their unique relationship, which is certainly not what might be expected when the book introduces her. An even more charming surprise is the character of Dr. Love, a psychiatrist tangentially related to the major players of A Moody Fellow. Watson does not relegate Dr. Love to the background, but instead depicts him in such a way that even his story jumps from the page fully formed and nuanced. He is possibly the most relatable character in the book—certainly the most “normal” when viewed next to Moody or Amanda. He comes across about as perplexed as the reader might be in the crucial art gallery scene that comprises a large section of the novel; his status as a viewer mirrors our own. As the book is about love and death, his own experiences with these concepts are not neglected. Dr. Love’s ultimate demise may even strike the reader more forcefully than Moody’s, with his last thoughts being of his wife: “I wish Sylvia could have seen that fish.”
A Moody Fellow Finds Love and Then Dies serves up Moody’s brief life in surprisingly vivid detail for its length. And even its length reflects Moody’s fleeting life—it is a short book in which we fly along, experiencing life as swiftly as Moody does. That seems to be the point for Watson, that life moves so quickly and one always wants to extend it, to see it dwelled upon, to give it the attention it deserves, but it’s just not how life works. It’s abrupt. Watson’s narrative voice is sharp and engaging, and the ultimate circumstances of each character are both touching and completely fitting with the world Moody inhabits, a world which is the driving force of this charming novel. Watson works hard to keep us entertained without straining the prose, and while he may not have Moody’s best interests at heart, he certainly does his best to ensure that readers emerge from the novel with flashes of clarity about living any matter of lives, no matter how brief.