Thursday, March 23, 2017

Moonglow



I read Moonglow in January, then wrote up a very short review. Forgot about it until recently. Might as well share it now.

Released last November, Moonglow is the latest novel from Pulitzer Prize-winning author Michael Chabon. Except it's a bit more and a bit less than that; a hybrid of sorts. The publisher calls it, "an autobiography wrapped in a novel disguised as a memoir." The book begins with a bang, then takes some time introducing characters and concepts that will play important roles in the book's narrative. The narration is by a character named Michael Chabon, a barely fictionalized analog of the author, but is not explicitly about him. The story is based loosely on Chabon's own family history, except with plenty of deviations, artistic license, and other influences woven in to create a novelistic memoir of slyly epic proportions.

Our narrator acts as our conduit to the story of his family tree. His grandfather is seriously ill and nearing the end of life. The young Chabon, fresh off his debut novel Wonder Boys, begins to tease out snippets of the old man's life story. This proves challenging because his grandfather can be both taciturn and unimpressed with the details of his own life. These moments between Generation Xer Chabon and his "Greatest Generation" grandfather shed light on generational differences and challenges.

Eventually his grandfather's stories reveal a life less than ordinary, one that intersects with history in important and dramatic ways. Chabon gains a greater understanding of his grandfather, grandmother, mother, and other relatives. In the process, our narrator also unearths new ways of comprehending himself and his own life.

Ultimately, it's a heartfelt look at family, aging, mental illness, twentieth-century America, and love—in all of its many forms. Chabon is one of our most gifted writers, with a strong eye for revealing certain aspects of the human condition that we've all felt before but haven't articulated with such clarity ourselves. Moonglow is filled with those sorts of life-affirming moments, ones that will make you nod in recognition while also shaking your head in amazement. It beautifully showcases how we can always discover new perspectives on our parents, our grandparents, ourselves. Once again, Chabon displays an uncanny ability to make the personal feel universal.

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