Moonglow by Michael Chabon
eBook review copy: 448 pages
Moonglow by Michael Chabon is a highly recommended fictional
nonfiction account of his grandfather's life. It is: "A lie that
tells the truth, a work of fictional nonfiction, an autobiography
wrapped in a novel disguised as a memoir. Chabon tells us right at
the start in an Author's Note that: "In preparing this
memoir, I have stuck to the facts, except when facts refused to
conform with memory, narrative purpose, or the truth as I prefer
to understand it. Whatever liberties have been taken with names,
dates, places, events, and conversations, or with the
identities, motivations, and the interrelationships of family
members and historical personages, the reader is assured that
they have been taken with due abandon."
In 1989 Chabon traveled to see his terminally ill
grandfather. Although he was a terse man of few words his whole
life, the strong painkillers he was on helped him overcome this and
he shared his memories and stories about his life with his grandson.
What results is a tour de force of a speculative family biography.
"It is a tale of madness, of war and adventure, of sex and marriage
and desire, of existential doubt and model rocketry, of the shining
aspirations and demonic underpinnings of American technological
accomplishment at midcentury, and, above all, of the destructive
impact—and the creative power—of keeping secrets and telling lies.
It is a portrait of the difficult but passionate love between the
narrator’s grandfather and his grandmother, an enigmatic woman
broken by her experience growing up in war-torn France."
It is a family history written as a novel, or a "speculative
autobiography." The narrative doesn't follow a continuous timeline,
but, rather, jumps back and forth in time, much like what would
occur when a dying man is telling stories about his past to a
grandson. Locations range from South Philadelphia to a Florida
retirement village to Germany to New York’s Wallkill prison. This is
the span of a lifetime reduced to a novel. His grandfather wanted
him to write it all down and make his life mean something. There are
also several poignant stories dealing with Chabon's grandmother, who
suffered from voices and visions. Her mental illness was evident to
her husband and daughter, Chabon's mother.
The writing is outstanding, as one would expect from Chabon. The
characters are all well-developed and carefully depicted as real
people with flaws and foibles but memorable. While telling his
grandfather's story, he carefully provides historical details to set
the the time and place. There is a lot of storytelling here with
some digressions with related, relevant information, but the end
result is worth working through the extra information.
It's a genre bending novel - is it fiction or nonfiction or a
combination of both? Perhaps there are kernels of truth with lavish
My advanced reading copy was courtesy of the publisher/author.