On the Man Who Fell in Love with the Moon

10Dec07

As anyone who has read Cormac McCarthy knows, the best (which is to say, the truest) stories of the American West — although like pretty much anywhere, once you peel back enough layers — are filled with unfathomable extremes of violence and oppression; this was more than confirmed for us recently when we read (as part of our continuing examination of the gay voice in American literature) Tom Spanbauer’s 1991 novel The Man Who Fell in Love with the Moon. The book, narrated by a boy who may or may not be of Indian (i.e., Native American) descent but who in any case grows up working in a brothel in late 1800s Idaho (where his customers are mostly but not exclusively men), is beautifully written in a sparse, literate prose that, like McCarthy’s work, clearly falls into an American tradition of slightly clenched teeth narration with a decidedly rural accent. Without unveiling the details of the story, we can say it is one that (while filled with unpretentious humor) you can only read with a pit in your stomach, knowing that it will not end well for the boy (named “Shed”) and his “family” from the brothel, an assortment of whores and outcasts who have carved out an increasingly tenuous existence in which to conduct their business away from the oversight of the town’s Mormon leaders. In the end, Spanbauer gives us not only the expected killing and raping in the most graphic (which is not to say inappropriate) manner possible, but also a telling picture of the lengths the Mormons (like all of our favorite religions) will go to crush anyone who a) exists outside the confines of their moral strictures, or b) interferes with the economic exploitation of the land in which they have settled. In short, there is no reason — except for the most obvious (i.e., gay) one, although it’s not a word that exists in the book itself — that Spanbauer’s The Man Who Fell in Love with the Moon should not be regularly mentioned in the same breath as McCarthy’s Blood Meridian as an example of the unbearably sad truth upon which so much of our country was built, the ramifications of which — as we saw yesterday in Colorado, almost as if it were an epilogue to the book we had just finished — can be expected to reverberate into the foreseeable future.

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