A Moody Fellow Finds Love and Then Dies exudes warmth and love—toward its characters and toward its readers—in each of its 170 pages. But the good feelings extend beyond the story itself. In his “Acknowledgments,” Watson thanks friends and fellow writers (including Kyle Minor, whose bruising Praying Drunk is the exact opposite of A Moody Fellow in every way except quality), and then he thanks “lots of other folks for being great!” I want Douglas Watson to walk my dogs and water my plants while I’m out of town; I bet he’d expect nothing in return.
The plot? A moody fellow named Moody Fellow spends his life looking for love. Throughout his teenage and college years, this search proves unsuccessful; a nice—although moody—fellow, he seems to inadvertently encourage his girlfriends to cheat on him, leaving him chronically alone and depressed. Whenever a romantic mishap befalls him, Moody feels that what the girl did was “not about her at all but [was] instead about him, a judgment on him.”
Yes, chronically-rejected writers of the world: It’s okay to over-identify with Moody Fellow.
Watson knows his target audience, and he threads ideas of art throughout his novel, mostly from two characters: Amanda, who is so beautiful that she causes men to die of heart attacks; and Chad, a middle-aged and still-aspiring artist, sinking into fears of failure. How these characters relate to Moody, I will not reveal. Nor will I reveal with whom Moody finds love. I will confirm that Moody does in fact die, but don’t mistake this novel for a tragedy: “Moody got to go out on a high note,” Watson writes at the very end. “Everyone should be so lucky.”
This is the funniest book I’ve read in a long time. Much of the humor emerges from Watson’s unnamed, omniscient narrators. Sometimes they behave like the Gods in ancient Greco-Roman literature (at one point preventing a lightning bolt from striking Moody); other times, they behave like bemused observers whose hands are tied, and not only when it comes to Moody (“Her name was Bernadette,” they narrate about a waitress who appears in one scene, “and her life, which we’re not allowed to narrate because of a contractual dispute, was totally bizarre and fascinating”). Before Moody’s death, the narrators conduct an “exit interview” with him, assessing his role as protagonist: “You’re a nice guy, you have feelings, you occasionally do stuff. Maybe you could have been a little more active, had fewer thoughts, etc., but all in all, you’ve done the job we asked you to do…”
Watson’s voice sometimes sounds like that of a vaguely lame but adorable humor columnist, and don’t think that’s an insult at all. “[B]ut, hey, a job was a job,” Watson writes about Moody’s menial employment, “and this, being a job, was a job.” He has some fun with hipster sub-genres of music, as when Moody pegs Amanda as “a fan of punk, postpunk, neopunk, antiprotoquasipunk, or else rock.” (My favorite sentence in the entire book is this comic masterpiece of sincerity: “Poets are the ninjas of the mind, thought Moody, who was no poet.”) But darker thoughts walk amongst Watson’s corny jokes: “Just bomb them,” Moody thinks while listening to a politician discuss a problematic foreign country. “That’s what you’ll do anyway.” Bitterness and melancholy protect this book from weightlessness.
Early, Watson writes, “Whether this novel is a love letter and, if so, to what world it is addressed are questions that will be answered, if at all, later.” But the answers are in every sentence of this book: A Moody Fellow Finds Love and Then Dies is a love letter to boyfriends, girlfriends, spouses, family, friends, art, the city—and, finally, it is a love letter to any reader who needs a reminder that fine books can be written about good people trying to be good.