Moon-Age Daydream

Several times during my trial to get through 52 novels this year I’ve ridden the elevator, holding my current read, and been asked "what are you reading now?" That’s the easy part; what I dread is the follow-up, "what’s it about?" The ride’s short so I try to give them a one-line answer. Some novels just aren’t made for this. "It’s about a detective that has Tourette Syndrome." "It’s about a old couple driving from Baltimore to Pennsylvania." "It’s about an opera singer who gets taken hostage with a bunch of guys in Peru." These quick descriptions are usually met with blank stares and repeated pushs to the door open button. Novels just don’t lend themselves to easy descriptions like non-fiction. John Adams is 752 pages, but it only takes two words to describe what it's about.

Book number 47, Ira Sher’s Gentlemen of Space, is one of those tough-to-explain novels. It’s about an everyman sent to the moon on a NASA mission and goes missing. But of course, it’s about more than that. Most of the book is told from the perspective of the astronaut’s nine-year-old son as he looks out on and lives through the spectacle of media and space fanatics encamped outside his apartment building. It’s about hero-worship, and it’s about disillusionment, and it’s about escape, and a lot of other things and probably even more stuff that I missed.

It is not an easy book to read. Everything is described in such a poetic way that if you try to fly over any sentence you only end up having to read it again. The reader must stop and absorb one line before tackling the next. It’s a dreamlike story where anything is bound to happen. The author somehow makes even the most absurd events, like the remaining astronauts camping outside the apartment building in their spacesuits, seem very believable. This often takes even more deep prose to illustrate what is happening. I understood the author’s desire to say something deeper with his story but such wordiness got to be a burden on the flow of the story.

Which is not to say I didn’t like the book. It was a good story and, again, somehow very believable. It was Sher’s debut novel and it would be interesting to see if he learns to streamline his writing in his next work.

I have finally, finally started Mystic River, and today picked up Anne Tyler’s The Accidental Tourist and Nick McDonell’s Twelve from the library. I figured I should read Tourist since this blog takes its name from it. McDonell wrote Twelve when he was seventeen (follow that?) so I’m curious about that book.


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