Tuesday, November 22, 2016

Moonglow

Moonglow by Michael Chabon
HarperCollins: 11/22/16
eBook review copy: 448 pages
ISBN-13: 9780062225559

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 extra embellishments?

Disclosure: My advanced reading copy was courtesy of the publisher/author.

2 comments:

Robert Huddleston said...

Yes MOONGLOW is a novel but Chabon used “fiction” as a means of setting the record straight regarding America’s space age heroes; a Nazi directly involved in the use of slave labor to produce V2 rockets. This true story introduced in the “fiction” serves as an excellent means of getting the truth out, What is fiction is how he death with von Braun when he finally faced the man he called”the luckiest motherfucker. . .”It seems that most readers have failed to understand this, at least, few have made the connection in their comments.

Robert Huddleston

Lori L said...

Thanks for sharing Robert. I'm sure most reviewers are much like me and don't cover every element and nuance of the books they read and review. Also, there is something to be said for allowing readers to discover certain truths for themselves.