Moonglow is the latest novel from Michael Chabon. It is very meta, a novel pretending to be a memoir, narrated by Michael Chabon, telling the story of his unnamed grandfather and grandmother. The main character is the grandfather. Dying of cancer and mellowed by Dilaudid, he tells his grandson Michael about his life. “Dilaudid was bringing its soft hammer to bear on his habit of silence: Out flowed a record of his misadventures, his ambiguous luck, his feats and failures of timing and nerve.”
Grandfather lived an adventurous life. A brilliant engineer who never met a problem he did not want to solve. He was obsessed with the moon and rocketry. In the Army, he was part of Operation Paperclip, the elite team that rounded up as many Nazi scientists as possible. He falls in love with a woman he meets at a synagogue Casino Night, a Holocaust survivor with a daughter, Chabon’s mother. They marry, but bliss loses out to Grandmother’s mental illness and Grandfather’s explosive temper.
While he is writing down these stories, his mother asks if he thinks they were happy. He is certain they were, definitely. She asks again, “She went crazy. His business failed. They couldn’t have children of their own. He went to prison. HRT gave her cancer. I shot his brother in the eye and then married a man who cost him his business. When were they happy?” His answer was “In the cracks.”
In Moonglow what is true and what is fiction is unknown. We cannot say we were not warned. In the opening, Chabon tells us, ” 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.” How much is memoir and how much is truth, we will never know, but I think it is largely fiction in the pursuit of truth that happiness lies there in the cracks.
Chabon is a writer whose books have delighted and frustrated me since I first read The Amazing Adventures of Kavalier and Clay some fifteen years ago. Chabon mixes brilliance and laxity, he stuffs his books with stories, ideas, metaphors, history, science, geekery–everything he can fit–but more than he can do justice. For example, there is a murder, an accidental murder, a convenient and unconsidered murder, unconsidered because the dead man was a bully. Why does his life matter so little? This is where Chabon fails to consider the implications of his story.
There is this manic humor to his books that draws me in. So much happens and it’s seemingly haphazard, though the way it all comes together, that haphazard is is the result of his craft. He makes it feel that way, which is how life feels, and of course, life is his subject–the full erratic, haphazard wonder of life.