Moonglow, Michael Chabon: Book Review

michael chabon moonglow book reviewHarper Perennial / David Butow
Moonglow Book Cover Moonglow
Michael Chabon
Adult Nonfiction
Harper Perennial

Following on the heels of his New York Times bestselling novel Telegraph Avenue, Pulitzer Prize-winning author Michael Chabon delivers another literary masterpiece: a novel of truth and lies, family legends, and existential adventure—and the forces that work to destroy us

In 1989, fresh from the publication of his first novel, The Mysteries of Pittsburgh, Michael Chabon traveled to his mother’s home in Oakland, California to visit his terminally ill grandfather. Tongue loosened by powerful painkillers, memory stirred by the imminence of death, Chabon’s grandfather shared recollections and told stories the younger man had never heard before, uncovering bits and pieces of a history long buried and forgotten. That dreamlike week of revelations forms the basis for the novel Moonglow, the latest feat of legerdemain in the ongoing magic act that is the art of Michael Chabon.

Moonglow unfolds as the deathbed confession, made to his grandson, of a man the narrator refers to only as “my grandfather.” It is a tale of madness, of war and adventure, of sex and desire and ordinary love, of existential doubt and model rocketry, of the shining aspirations and demonic underpinnings of American technological accomplishment at mid-century and, above all, of the destructive impact—and the creative power—of the keeping of secrets and the telling of lies. A gripping, poignant, tragicomic, scrupulously researched and wholly imaginary transcript of a life that spanned the dark heart of the twentieth century, Moonglow is also a tour de force of speculative history in which Chabon attempts to reconstruct the mysterious origins and fate of Chabon Scientific, Co., an authentic mail-order novelty company whose ads for scale models of human skeletons, combustion engines and space rockets were once a fixture in the back pages of Esquire, Popular Mechanics, and Boy’s Life. Along the way Chabon devises and reveals, in bits and pieces whose hallucinatory intensity is matched only by their comic vigor and the radiant moonglow of his prose, a secret history of his own imagination.

From the Jewish slums of prewar South Philadelphia to the invasion of Germany, from a Florida retirement village to the penal utopia of New York’s Wallkill Prison, from the heyday of the space program to the twilight of “the American Century,” Moonglow collapses an era into a single life and a lifetime into a single week. A lie that tells the truth, a work of fictional non-fiction, an autobiography wrapped in a novel disguised as a memoir, Moonglow is Chabon at his most daring, his most moving, his most Chabonesque.

This review contains quotes from the book.

*Special thanks to Harper Perennial for allowing us to read Michael Chabon’s Moonglow.

Michael Chabon writes a powerful memoir-styled novel Moonglow detailing the experiences he and his grandfather have been through and witnessed throughout his lifetime.

Chabon traveled to Oakland, California to visit his dying grandfather one last time. His grandfather was on painkillers, and that led him to open up about his past like he never has before. His grandfather talks in detail about the time he was in the Jewish slums in Philadelphia to when Germany was invaded. He talks about what it was like to live in a Florida retirement home and about his time when he was in a New York prison. Chabon is able to capture the essence of his grandfather’s life in this novel.

What I loved about this novel is Chabon’s grandfather and the way he was able to recollect his past in such a detailed manner.

“On December 8, 1941, unemployed, bored, and known as a shark in every pool hall within a hundred miles of the corner of Fourth and Ritner, my grandfather enlisted in the Army Corps of Engineers. Bequeathing his custom Brunswick cue to Uncle Ray–depriving the world, in time, of a tzaddik–he boarded a troop train for Rapides Parish, Louisiana. After six weeks of basic he was sent to a Corps base near Peoria, Illinois, for training in the construction of air-fields, bridges, and roads.”

– excerpt from Michael Chabon’s Moonglow

This was just an example of the kind of detail his grandfather was able to tell Chabon. Chabon also has a gift of storytelling. Because it is hard to put all these details in a thoughtful manner, and his words run so smoothly. My favorite story of Chabon’s grandfather was when he was in prison. That gave me an inside look into what it is like to live in one and see what the people are like.

I recommend this novel to anyone that needs a book that will make you see the world differently. This novel gave life a new meaning to me because the words and stories were so impactful. This novel was also a National Book Critics Circle Award Finalist in 2016. So if that isn’t convincing enough to go buy this, then I don’t know what is. I am going to beg all of my friends and family to read this one because it will change their lives. Like it changed mine.

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Jessica Duffield
the authorJessica Duffield
Contributing Writer
I am a junior in college. Books are my passion and I hope to work in book publishing once I graduate from journalism school.