In 1989, fresh from the publication of his first novel, The Mysteries of Pittsburgh, Michael Chabon traveled to his mother’s home in Oakland, California to visit his terminally ill grandfather. Read more...
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In 1989, fresh from the publication of his first novel, The Mysteries of Pittsburgh, Michael Chabon traveled to his mother’s home in Oakland, California to visit his terminally ill grandfather. Tongue loosened by powerful painkillers, memory stirred by the imminence of death, Chabon’s grandfather shared recollections and told stories the younger man had never heard before, uncovering bits and pieces of a history long buried and forgotten. That dreamlike week of revelations forms the basis for the novel Moonglow, the latest feat of legerdemain in the ongoing magic act that is the art of Michael Chabon.
Moonglow unfolds as the deathbed confession, made to his grandson, of a man the narrator refers to only as “my grandfather.” It is a tale of madness, of war and adventure, of sex and desire and ordinary love, of existential doubt and model rocketry, of the shining aspirations and demonic underpinnings of American technological accomplishment at mid-century and, above all, of the destructive impact—and the creative power—of the keeping of secrets and the telling of lies. A gripping, poignant, tragicomic, scrupulously researched and wholly imaginary transcript of a life that spanned the dark heart of the twentieth century, Moonglow is also a tour de force of speculative history in which Chabon attempts to reconstruct the mysterious origins and fate of Chabon Scientific, Co., an authentic mail-order novelty company whose ads for scale models of human skeletons, combustion engines and space rockets were once a fixture in the back pages of Esquire, Popular Mechanics, and Boy’s Life. Along the way Chabon devises and reveals, in bits and pieces whose hallucinatory intensity is matched only by their comic vigor and the radiant moonglow of his prose, a secret history of his own imagination.
From our buyer, Margaret Terwey: "This work of "fictional nonfiction" is built from the stories told to Michael Chabon by his dying grandfather. It's a beautiful blend of family history and ficton."
Publishers Weekly Reviews
Publishers Weekly® Reviews
- Reviewed in: Publishers Weekly, page .
- Review Date: 2016-08-01
- Reviewer: Staff
Chabon’s (Telegraph Avenue) charming and elegantly structured novel is presented as a memoir by a narrator named Mike who shares several autobiographical details with Chabon (for one, they’re both novelists who live in the Bay Area). Mike’s memoir is concerned less with his own life than with the lives of his deceased maternal Jewish grandparents, who remain unnamed. His grandfather—whose deathbed reminisces serve as the novel’s main narrative engine—is a WWII veteran with an anger streak (the stint he does in prison after a workplace assault is one of the novel’s finest sections) and a fascination with V-2 rockets, astronomy, space travel, and all things celestial or skyward. Mike’s grandmother, born in France, is alluring but unstable, “a source of fire, madness, and poetry” whose personal history overlaps in unclear ways with the Holocaust, and whose fits of depression and hallucination result in her institutionalization (also one of the novel’s finest sections). Chabon imbricates his characters’ particular histories with broader, detail-rich narratives of war, migration, and technological advances involving such figures as Alger Hiss and Wernher von Braun. This move can sometimes feel forced. What seduces the reader is Chabon’s language, which reinvents the world, joyously, on almost every page. Listening to his grandfather’s often-harrowing stories, Mike thinks to himself, “What I knew about shame... would fit into half a pistachio shell.” (Nov.)BookPage Reviews
The stories that make up a life
BookPage Top Pick in Fiction, December 2016
Michael Chabon’s sparkling, richly satisfying new novel, Moonglow, is built from the stories of the so-called Greatest Generation. Specifically, stories told to him over the course of a week by his dying grandfather in 1989. While parts of the book are narrated by the author, and his mother and grandmother are prominent characters, this work of “fictional nonfiction” clearly belongs to the old man.
The novel unfolds in alternating threads showing different parts of his grandfather’s life, interspersed with scenes featuring the author as narrator. Chabon learns his grandfather is a brilliant, physical man, equally capable of fashioning—and using—a garrote and carving wooden horses for his daughter. We follow his work as a soldier tasked with kidnapping Nazi scientists before the Soviets can do the same; his postwar life loving a broken, secretive Frenchwoman during her descent into madness; and finally his days as a widower in a Florida retirement community, stalking a python that preys upon small pets.
Despite heavy themes, delicious exchanges abound. One of my favorites comes during the Florida years when Devaughn, community security guard and reluctant Sancho Panza in the snake hunt, warns this dotty old geezer that he risks going to jail. “I’ve been in jail,” Chabon’s grandfather says. “I got a lot of reading done.” “I might like to re-estimate my opinion of you,” Devaughn replies.
More than 25 years after his first novel, The Mysteries of Pittsburgh, there’s no need to re-estimate the opinion of Chabon. His writing is joyful, his timing and humor have grown only more impeccable, and his characters still live with you long after you turn the final page.