Halfway through Moonglow, I caught myself with my hand over my mouth, trying to keep my breath inside my body because the prose was so exceptionally beautiful.
I had my worries before reading this book. I have only recently discovered Chabon, and have only otherwise read The Yiddish Policeman’s Union, which was so stunning that it made me want to punch something. There is a lot of hype surrounding Moonglow, and even I only got it by accident from the library on a strict, one week-only, no renewals loan, because it’s such a hot commodity. What if it’s a waste of time? What if it’s the Emperor’s New Clothes? What if, what if, what if?
But this really is an extraordinary work. I don’t want to ruin the experience by getting too deep into details. I don’t think it’s talking out of school to say that this is a memoir in a more honest sense than any of Chabon’s previous work, which of course draw heavily on his life and experiences but still serve as fiction. In this, Chabon is himself the narrator, telling less the story of his own life but rather his grandfather’s life, as told to Chabon at his grandfather’s literal deathbed.
In writing this review, I just deleted a very long run-on sentence trying to detail the scope of the story. It’s honestly an epic. There is Chabon’s grandfather’s love affair with his grandmother, and her struggle with mental illness. There is Chabon’s mother’s unusual adolescence and a study in the all-too-human psychology of choosing the wrong life partner. There is the question of parenthood and what that looks like. And then, as with any death-bed confessional narrative, there is the story of the Cold War, the space race, and the Nazi-hunting Ahab it turned out his grandfather had always been, without ever breathing a word to it to anyone in his family.
And this is a true story.
The lies, the humanity, the love, it’s all so beautiful conveyed in exactly the way that Chabon knocked me out last year with The Yiddish Policeman’s Union, in his challenging but astonishingly stunning prose. He has an ability with simile that dances next to synethesia, and then blows it out of the water. What a gift he is to all of us.