The stories that make up a life.
By Michael Chabon
Harper, $28.99, 448 pages
ISBN 9780062225559, audio, eBook available
Michael Chabon's sparkling, richly satisfying new novel, Moonglow, is built from the stories of the so-called Greatest Generation. Specifically, stories told to him over the course of a week by his dying grandfather in 1989. While parts of the book are narrated by the author, and his mother and grandmother are prominent characters, this work of "fictional nonfiction" clearly belongs to the old man.
The novel unfolds in alternating threads showing different parts of his grandfather's life, interspersed with scenes featuring the author as narrator. Chabon learns his grandfather is a brilliant, physical man, equally capable of fashioning--and using--a garrote and carving wooden horses for his daughter. We follow his work as a soldier tasked with kidnapping Nazi scientists before the Soviets can do the same; his postwar life loving a broken, secretive Frenchwoman during her descent into madness; and finally his days as a widower in a Florida retirement community, stalking a python that preys upon small pets.
Despite heavy themes, delicious exchanges abound. One of my favorites comes during the Florida years when Devaughn, community security guard and reluctant Sancho Panza in the snake hunt, warns this dotty old geezer that he risks going to jail. "I've been in jail," Chabon's grandfather says. "I got a lot of reading done." "I might like to re-estimate my opinion of you," Devaughn replies.
More than 25 years after his first novel, The Mysteries of Pittsburgh, there's no need to re-estimate the opinion of Chabon. His writing is joyful, his timing and humor have grown only more impeccable, and his characters still live with you long after you turn the final page.