THE MAN WHO FELL IN LOVE WITH THE MOON / Tom Spanbauer. 1991 (355 pgs)
First Sentence: “If you’re the devil, then it’s not me telling this story.”
Prevailing Narrative Voice: A first person narrator / main character speaking in past tense about events in the sequence they occur. A fictional auto-biography.
What the reader learns in the first paragraphs: The reader is acquainted with several seemingly main characters during the first several paragraphs (and the first few pages) of this novel. Each of the first paragraphs spends much of its energy on the topic of names and the various names for the same person or thing without exactly telling us what the narrator’s name actually is. The reader learns that he is an adolescent, Shoshone boy who didn’t know his father and whose mother died when he was ten. He lives in a shed and that might be his name.
What the reader learns in the first ten pages: The reader very quickly learns that he is a Berdache who lives behind a bordello and turns tricks for a living. Berdache being the Indian word for “holy man who fucks with men.” It is introduced in the first ten pages that the narration will focus frequently on fucking with a frank and unabashed perspective. The reader is further introduced to a quartet of folks who seem to be a makeshift family; his boss (the madam and mayor), her girlfriend, and the title character of the book, the man who fell in love with the moon. The first chapter (9 pages) of Spanbauer’s book is a whirlwind of information that is presented to the reader in a somewhat haphazard way and juxtaposes events from the end of the story, the story before the story, along with elements of story that will be told in more detail when their time comes up. I found it a bit unsettling and had some difficulty hanging on to what information was to be connected to which character or event. I was relieved when the second chapter began with, “My earliest memories are ….”. The second chapter shifts gears and slows to a pace that seems will follow a linear progression.
Character: The main character, the narrator who refers to himself as “out in the shed” or “no name” or “a name I can not say aloud for fear of the devil,” speaks from an adolescent voice, even though he is clearly narrating from a time much later than adolescence. The narrator is finding his way through life. He seems aware of the low circumstances into which he is born, but through the love and friendship of his quirky “family” he experiences enduring and loyal friendships that bring awareness and meaning to his life and become the crux of this story.
Setting: The geographical locations indicated are two towns “above the Sawtooth range” called Excellent and Gold Bar, Idaho. Contributing to the awkward whirlwind mentioned above is the fact that Spanbauer does not introduce the reader to location until page four. I have found that most authors in this study acquaint the reader with some form of physical setting – parlor, country, street, town – within the first few paragraphs. Setting familiarizes the reader, to some degree, with an era in time. In the case of THE MAN WHO FELL IN LOVE WITH THE MOON the setting is the environs of two declining boomtowns left over from the gold rushs of ’63 & ’72. Now, there are no more than a hundred people left …before the second coming… “before the Mormons, that is.” I suggest that in delaying revealing the name of the location of the story to the reader creates a sense of unease. The reader feels ungrounded until they become familiar with where and when the story is unfolding.
Plot & Expectations beyond the tenth page: When I read this book I remember feeling that I was observing a child’s drawing or a cave painting. I understood what the symbols meant but I was unable to picture the meanings. I would need a good interpreter. The storyteller and the narrator do exactly that.
Random Comments: This novel is the first by Tom Spanbauer, a very popular Pacific Northwest author. I read the entire novel a couple of years ago and was amazed by his frank writing style and the opportunity to consider man’s relationship to himself, his name and the ways we are formed based on the families we adhere to.