Moonglow is a novel that is written to sound as if it were a memoir about the life of the author’s late grandfather. Through the vignettes that the grandfather related over the last two weeks of his life, we learn what it was like to be him and to have had his perspective on life. But it is not meant to be truthful; as Chabon writes in an Author’s Note preceding the book:
“In preparing this memoir, I have stuck to facts except when facts refused to conform with memory, narrative purpose, or the truth as I prefer to understand it.”
Thus, he claims, it is his ““first faux-memoir novel.” He also declared in an interview about the book:
“It is an attempt to explain an enigmatic advertisement I found in a copy of an issue of Esquire magazine in 1958 for Chabon Scientific Company that sold a model rocket. This memoir is the fictional history behind that advertisement to explain it.”
In previous books, Michael Chabon has proven to be a master of the meticulously wrought phrase. In his Pulitzer Prize winning book The Amazing Adventures of Kavalier and Clay, for example, his evocation of New York life in the 1930’s was absolutely rhapsodic. I didn’t feel that this book rose to that level, although Chabon adroitly captures the subtleties of the grandfather’s life in a panorama that spans World War II, marriage to the narrator’s grandmother, the post-war race for scientific hegemony, the way in which the grandfather spent his retirement, and finally his deathbed conversations with his grandson in 1989.
It is both a chronicle of an individual life and of the broader era in which that life was lived.
Evaluation: Some of the themes Chabon has used before reappear in this book, such as of the impotency of men in the face of evil, the appeal of storytelling in reshaping memory, the ways in which imagination can help make reality endurable, and the redemptive power of love.
Yet, although Chabon conjures this grandfather’s life so vividly, strangely, the story did not engage me emotionally. Nor did the author wow me, as in the past, with his magical flights of prose.
I thought this was a good book, but because this author has written some great books, I found it disappointing.
Published by Harper, an imprint of HarperCollins, 2016