Michael Chabon was the first contemporary fiction author I read as a teenager. At 15 or 16, after reading mostly classics up until that point, I grabbed The Mysteries of Pittsburgh off my mom’s bookcase. I loved it. I was hooked. I went on, through the years, to read Wonderboys: Again, loved it. Werewolves in their Youth: Great. The Amazing Adventures of Cavalier and Clay: Epic, again, loved it. I skipped The Yiddish Policemen’s Union, though I’m not sure why. And then Telegraph Avenue… Couldn’t finish it. I found the writing too forcefully “writerly.” I stumbled on overly wordy sentences and visuals that jarred me out of the book. I experienced some of this jarring, this lack of flow, with Moonglow. It took me four long days to get through, and I never fully lost myself in the story.
The story itself is a patchwork, with Chabon using his grandfather’s own history (growing up Jewish in Philadelphia, his experiences during WWII, meeting and marrying Chabon’s grandmother, his time in prison, his last years) as the foundation of the plot. As with any narrative of this kind, to tell it requires embellishment and the personal story is woven with fictions.
Moonglow is a dense, multi-layered book, and there’s so much I could write about it here: the wealth of moon/space references and allusions, the fascinating/frightening WWII passages, the function of memory in familial narrative and the stories we tell to survive, the effect of war and violence on the psyche… So while I didn’t lose myself in the story, while I struggled at times with the punchy oddness of word choice and felt like I had to work to reach the end, I give Moonglow high marks for evocative scenes, narrative structure, and historical scope.