Jul 2, 2017

A Moonshot at Larry's

Dinner and Acknowledgments

There was plenty that could have gone wrong at Larry's last Thursday evening.  An aborted rocket launch, a botched shipment from Chattanooga, jello that wouldn't set--all were possibilities.  Thankfully, none occurred and Larry's evening went according to script.  

In a meal that touched on several of the themes in Moonglow, Larry served us Philly cheese steak sandwiches (the protagonist is born in Philadelphia), matzo ball soup (Judaism and anti-Semitism are prominent themes), raspberry jello (the protagonist's final meal), and Moon Pies shipped from the Chattanooga Bakery (the moon mesmerizes both reader and protagonist, and is the novel's central metaphor).

But Larry's best effort came after the meal.  As a tribute to Chabon's imagination, he launched a model rocket (an Estes rocket, Glenn!) several hundred feet above his back patio.  Amazingly, the rocket's chute partially deployed and it landed less than 30 feet away. Very impressive, Larry. 

Our Review and Discussion of Moonglow by Michael Chabon

We've all noticed that a middling book will sometimes engender a lively conversation.  That occurred with The Rise of Superman, another selection by Larry, which had us arguing late into the evening but only earned a passing grade.   Last Thursday, we learned that the reverse is also true.  Moonglow drew strong marks following a lackluster discussion. Chabon demands a minimum commitment from his reader, but how could we focus when Larry's moonshot and Moon Pies were competing for our attention?

In his latest novel, Michael Chabon lulls the reader into thinking he's enjoying a faithfully reconstructed biography of Chabon's grandfather, told through a series of recollections shared at his deathbed. We learn that "my grandfather" (both narrator and grandfather go unnamed) served in the OSS during WWII and entered Poland ahead of the Russians in order to seize Germany's vaunted V-2 rockets and its surviving rocket scientists.  After the war, he married a French woman, did time in prison for assaulting his boss, and retired to Florida after a successful career selling model rockets. 

If Larry's parlor trick was a backyard rocket launch, Chabon's is that he's created a fantastical story about a man who is not his grandfather.  It's not clear who he is, but it is clear that simple biography is secondary to the relationships that connect the characters in Chabon's novel.  Indeed, the reader's epiphany midway through the novel is that Chabon's family's darkest secret involves the grandmother and not the grandfather.

Our cautious embrace of Chabon's clever storytelling disappointed Doug, who was convinced that we would all love the novel for its deliberate mixture of fact and fiction.  As he put it, this is how all family stories are rendered.   We enjoyed elements of the story but it didn't quite come together for some of us--especially as the story is told non-sequentially.  While Armando didn't mind the narrative switches, I felt we were made to suffer so that Chabon could prove his point that life's stories are messy.  Dan and Stan both stopped partway through:  Stan loved the writing but blamed his concussion; Dan opted for the Timothy Egan selection and gave it a 9!  Our guest Stewart chided Dan and Stan, claiming that the novel's second half made the effort worthwhile.

Our Rating of Moonglow

Between the DNRs (Did Not Reads), Moon Pies and rocket gazing, our book discussion grew desultory as the evening grew late.  But when it came to time to rate the novel, we perked up and handed Chabon an impressive 7.8.  Maybe Doug was right after all.

Next Up:  Sapiens: A Brief History of Humankind by Yuval Harari

Stan proposed several titles, but the one I remember and the one we picked was, again, the one recommended by Stan's father.  According to Stan, Harari's tale of the triumph of homo sapiens is his father's favorite book of all time.  Stan, we're used to your hyperbole; invite your dad and let's hear it from him directly. Until then....


  1. It is unclear why there would not be a lively discussion around "Moonglow". As noted by Doug, family stories are messy. Add to that the changes that take place as a story is lived, then told generation to generation, and who knows what is real and what is not. The interesting juxtaposition of the novel between the protagonist grandfather and the antagonist Werner von Braun creates a link that cannot go unnoticed. Governments will forgive anything as long as it gets them ahead. Fighting fascism did not hold a candle to flying to the moon. The heroes of war and the causes they are fighting for are often forgotten when the warriors return home. In this case to the same anti-Semitism that the grandfather fought against, and in our own time the rise of fascism. In turn individuals can also forgive anything, as shown by the grandfather's love for his wife, even though he knew something was amiss.

  2. Guys I have been communicating (ok it is a monologue at present!) with my beautiful, intelligent, witty NYT's columnist and food author, Melissa Clark, to ask her indulgence and attend our book group meeting. To date she has found it difficult to respond. It may be one of three reasons:
    1. She is intimidated by the cerebral tone of our book group- unlikely!
    2. She has not yet heard the mesmerizing tone of the Aussie drawl- possible although doubtful
    3. I sent her a link to the NYT's article where Andrew denigrated female authors and his wife's book group all within 300 words- most probable

    I still hold out that she will miraculously show up at our October book group (at my house of course). In the (un)likely event that were to occur I will unilaterally change our reading choice to a suitably authored book, e.g. Melissa Clark ,and ask you all to leave by 9PM so Melissa and I can share quality time together, before my wife returns home at 10 :-)

    More to follow

    Peter G