The collection begins and ends with stories told by a male narrator addressing his dead sister (though the two pieces have nothing in common otherwise). "The Mansion on the Hill" is the story of an underachieving, slightly unbalanced guy who fails, catastrophically, at playing the avian mascot for a fast-food fried chicken joint. He lands a job at the Mansion on the Hill, a theme-room wedding venue that feels more like a funeral home, and slowly becomes enmeshed in the pathetic, lovelorn lives of his mostly dispirited coworkers; the climax of the story comes when he learns that his sister's former fiance is scheduled to be married at the Mansion on the Hill, less than a year after the sister's death. "Mansion" attempts to balance the fine line between comedy and tragedy, but the tone is uneven, and the desired effect is often unclear: was that supposed to be funny, or sad? In the end, it's merely pathetic, in all the various meanings of the word.
"Demonology," by contrast, feels much more intimate and personal, even autobiographical. It recounts the narrator's recollections of his sister in brief, unconnected snapshot scenes, which more or less center around Halloween and trick-or-treating (hence the candy), then jumps to a dispassionate description of her last moments; finally, the narrator addresses the sister, telling her how he feels in her absence despite (and because of) her inability to hear him. Though the narrator is the surviving sibling, he removes himself from the story, placing the focus squarely on his dead sister; it's a nice twist that she becomes present by her absence, alive in memory.
The finest pieces are those told in a fluid, stream-of-consciousness narrative, where the plot must be sifted out with careful attention to the flow of words. In just two-and-a-half pages, "Drawer" recounts an estranged husband's violent destruction of a piece of furniture that is, to him, symbolic of the failure of his marriage, but this can only be determined after the fact (and, probably, after several readings). "Boys" is a beautiful, lyrical story about two brothers growing from infancy to adulthood in the same house. The phrase "boys enter the house," used again and again until it feels like a litany, anchors the story and evokes the lengthy procession of mostly identical days; in the end, it gives way to "boys, no longer boys," as the children assume the role of adults in the face of tragedy.
Not all of the stories work perfectly, of course. "Pan's Fair Throng" is a mostly vexing, overlong piece that blends present-day realism, fairy-tale convention, and Fakespearean tone into a baffling hodge-podge that defies interpretation. It appears to be the story of a young hacker who goes on trial for turning another young man into a monkey by feeding him a potion. Despite some impressively authentic medieval speech, the tone often veers alarmingly into preciously post-modern pop-culture references, and the result is a muddy, confusing pastiche that isn't nearly as funny as the author probably thinks it is. "Surplus Value Books: Catalogue Number 13" purports to be a sale listing for the narrator's rare-book collection, many of which turn out to be "valuable" only because of their connections to central figures (or romantic obsessions) in the narrator's life. The conceit of personal-history-as-catalog-notes would be more interesting if it hadn't already been used, to greater effect, earlier in the book; as it is, the premise doesn't wear well with repetition, and feels a little too cute.
On the whole, however, Moody is a strikingly original and ferociously smart writer with a knack for offbeat protagonists in unusually imagined situations. Although regretfully fond of italicizing words, phrases, and entire paragraphs at times (the reason is unclear; often, it seems intended to give a heavily ironic emphasis to the words italicized, but the author's constant and unrelenting use of the device quickly weakens its impact), Moody writes well and evocatively; the reader may be confused or frustrated at times, but will never be bored. After finishing the book, I think I may finally have found the real reason for the cover image: like Smarties, these little stories are oddly addictive, despite their bittersweet tang. I purchased this book through Amazon.com right after another great purchase, THE LOSERS' CLUB by Richard Perez, about an unlucky writer addicted to the personals. Both books are from experimental, somewhat "edgy" New York authors, but that's where the similarity ends, although I recommend each highly.