Book Review: Moonglow by Michael Chabon

book jacketReviewed by Tom Hart - About halfway through Michael Chabon's new novel 'Moonglow', he confesses that the opponent of his young manhood rebellion was his family's inclination to "leave the business of feeling and talking about feelings to people who had nothing better to do." The young rebel believed, and still does, that silence is a malignancy and that "getting it all out" is the only solution. Thus, when he is called to his cancer-ridden grandfather's bedside, where  pain-killing drugs have loosed the patient's tongue and Chabon hears long hidden, secret tales of his family, he has no choice other than to pen this (faux) memoir. From the outset, I was completely absorbed by the mysterious intricacy of the novel, a detailed unfolding of delicate, family relationships, at the same time revealing (not without humor and pathos), the sordid nature of some of the technological blunderings of the nineteen-fifties.

We are led through the catacombs of the allied invasion of Nazi Germany where grandfather pursues the V-2 rocket scientist, Wernher von Braun. Recounting his time in federal prison for attempting to strangle an employer who intends to fire him, hunting an escaped python that attacked his lover's cat in an old-folks home in Florida, building impossibly detailed models of spacecraft for NASA, the opiated old man who Chabon only refers to as "my grandfather", lowers us into the sea of his memories without a life-jacket.

A principal in this tale is the woman, Mamie, who with her four year old daughter (Chabon's future mother) flees Nazi infected Europe to fall inextricably in love with the grandfather. She is pursued throughout her adult life and driven to insanity by the "skinless horse" which the reader is left to identify. It is to Mamie that we owe a debt of gratitude for the gift of Chabon's proclivity for storytelling. When caring for her young grandson, she would infrequently but memorably, take out her small deck of illustrated cards and with her troubled mind, utterly captivate him with her stories.

Chabon, armed to the hilt with his prize winning quiver of outlandish metaphors, his fascination for the para-normal and of course his unfailing narrative marksmanship, delivers this "lie-told- as autobiography" which will undoubtedly send us to dig deeper into our own families' stories, searching for the hidden silences.