A Thousand Steps

A Thousand Steps
A Thousand Steps by T. Jefferson Parker

Tuesday, June 4, 2019

Moonglow by Michael Chabon- Feature and Review


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.



MoonglowMoonglow by Michael Chabon
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Moonglow by Michael Chabon is a 2016 Harper publication.

I must admit, up front, that I’ve never read a book by this author. That is not to say I don’t have his books sitting on my shelves, or loaded onto my Kindle, because I do. However, I’ve never managed to get around to reading them.

My library was really pushing this book recently, so I placed a hold on it. Shockingly, few people were ahead of me, so I nabbed a copy almost immediately.

Having no idea what to expect, but hoping for something different and maybe a little challenging, I dived into what some have referred to as a ‘novel memoir’ or memoir/novel.

Michael Chabon, in 1989, travels to Oakland, California to visit his dying grandfather. Never having revealed a great deal to his grandson during his life, his grandfather decides to remedy that, by regaling Michael with stories from his colorful and adventurous life, while on his deathbed.

‘Ninety percent of everything he ever told me about his life, I heard in its final ten days.’

The author never refers to his grandfather by name, and I have no idea why, but the gentleman lived through many significant phases in history. His tale is not told chronologically, but skips through time in no particular order. While I’m usually pretty good at dealing with flashbacks in novels, this nilly willy time trip, did create some problems for me at times. I also lost interest a time or two, as the topics just didn’t appeal to me, in any way.

But, there were poignant moments that made up for those dry spells. I may have this all wrong, but I gathered the grandfather was the main focus of the book, and the other characters were meant to be secondary. I didn’t know what to make of his grandfather for a while, but by the end of the book, I realized I had enjoyed getting to know the man and appreciated his humor.

Now, why is the book labeled as a novel memoir?

“In preparing for this memoir, I have stuck to the facts except when the facts refused to conform with memory, narrative purpose, or the truth as I prefer to understand it.”

How much is absolute truth, how much is embellishment? Is it a real memoir, or a novel disguised as a memoir?

Either way, the book is unique, with realistic and compelling characterizations, and a sophisticated prose, which is what I liked best about it.

Overall, this one is a little off the beaten path for me. It’s not the type of book I would want to read often, but I am glad I gave it a try, and it has inspired me to move the books I already own by this author closer to the top of my TBR pile.






Michael Chabon (b. 1963) is an acclaimed and bestselling author whose works include the Pulitzer Prize–winning novel The Amazing Adventures of Kavalier & Clay (2000). Chabon achieved literary fame at age twenty-four with his first novel, The Mysteries of Pittsburgh (1988), which was a major critical and commercial success. He then published Wonder Boys (1995), another bestseller, which was made into a film starring Michael Douglas. One of America’s most distinctive voices, Chabon has been called “a magical prose stylist” by the New York Times Book Review, and is known for his lively writing, nostalgia for bygone modes of storytelling, and deep empathy for the human predicament.

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