Monday, December 16, 2013

Mondays on the Margins: Mending the Moon by Susan Palwick

Synopsis from Goodreads: Melinda Soto, aged sixty-four, vacationing in Mexico, is murdered by a fellow American tourist. 

Back in her hometown of Reno, Nevada, she leaves behind her adopted son, Jeremy, whom she rescued from war-torn Guatamala when he was a toddler—just one of her many causes over the years. And she leaves behind a circle of friends: Veronique, the academic stuck in a teaching job from which she can't retire; Rosemary, who's losing her husband to Alzheimer's and who's trying to lose herself in volunteer work; Henrietta, the priest at Rosemary's and Melinda's church.

Jeremy already had a fraught relationship with his charismatic mother and the people in her orbit. Now her death is tearing him apart, and he can barely stand the rituals of remembrance that ensue among his mother’s friends. Then the police reveal who killed Melinda: a Seattle teenager who flew home to his parents and drowned himself just days later.

It's too much. Jeremy's not the only one who can't deal. Friendships fray. But the unexpected happens: an invitation to them all, from the murderer's mother, to come to Seattle for his memorial. It's ridiculous. And yet, somehow, each of them begins to see in it a chance to heal. Aided, in peculiar ways, by Jeremy's years-long obsession with the comic-book hero Comrade Cosmos, and the immense cult of online commentary it's spawned.

Shot through with feeling and inventiveness, Susan Palwick's Mending the Moon is a novel of the odd paths that lead to home.

Let's just be up-front about something here: I can't review anything by Susan Palwick with anything approaching objectivity. Ever since I read Flying in Place I've been the most slavishly adoring fan girl ever, and as far as I'm concerned she never puts a word wrong. Her other novels before this one were The Necessary Beggar and Shelter, and she has a kick-ass short story collection called The Fate of Mice.

You know how sometimes an author writes a story you love and it pisses you off when they try to strike out in a new direction? Sometimes it works really well (I was completely dismayed when Laura Lippman wrote a book that wasn't a Tess Monaghan book, and yet To the Power of Three and Every Secret Thing are among my very favourite mysteries - actually, among my very favourite books, period). Sometimes you're totally right and you just have to suck it up and wait another damned year for the next series book. And then sometimes an author writes amazing stand-alones and then decides to write a series and that's annoying too.

With Susan Palwick, I never quite know what I'm going to get, except that there will probably be an element of the fantastic, the work will be suffused with a spirit of kindness and generosity, and I will love it. Flying in Place was a sometimes grimly realistic book with a supernatural element. The Necessary Beggar had an entire imaginary world twinned with our own. Shelter was futuristic and more overtly science-fictiony (yes, I've decided that's the technical term).

So I thought I might not love Mending the Moon quite as much as The Necessary Beggar or Shelter, because I really like imaginative world-making and futuristic science-fictiony books. And I was right. I didn't (I cannnot sully my Palwick worship with lies). BUT I still loved it.

Mending the Moon is pretty much wholly realistic, although the story is interleaved with stories from issues of Captain Cosmos, a comic book that is important to several characters in the book - this device works just as well as it did in The Amazing Adventures of Kavalier and Clay, which is very, very well. In this book, Palwick tackles foreign adoption, losing a parent to murder, being the parent of a child who commits an atrocity, and the forces of entropy. Except she doesn't "tackle" anything, because that would be tacky and obvious and Palwick is never tacky and obvious. Everything just sort of flows organically and swirls around colourfully and seems sort of simple and right even when it's horribly sad and inexplicable. The characters aren't all lovable or perfect, but they're wholly realized and authentic. There are no easy answers, but there is closure of a sort.

So it turns out Palwick can write a book without talking houses or portals to other worlds or intelligent mice, and still be brilliant.

I do so hope the next one has a talking house or mouse, though. 

5 comments:

Lynn said...

Wow, there are at least 10 books mentioned in this review that I am putting on my library list. I can't believe I have never heard of either author before - and I LOVE books that mix regular life with supernatural, and are mysteries!! I'm on it.

Steph Lovelady said...

Everything is improved by talking animals, no?

Nicole said...

Hmm, I've never read anything by that author. Guessing that I should note this down.

Maggie said...

Like Lynn I'm adding books to my library list left and right from this post. Elements of fantasy? Science fictiony? Urban fantasy type books? You are speaking my language. Just finished a good book so have been in book hangover too. Am glad to have some leads for new books!

Mom of the Perpetually Grounded said...

Someone very dear to me loves nothing better than talking mice. Love the title of the new one, they all definitely seem up my daughters alley for sure.