September 1, 2016 Booklist 43 www.booklistonline.com
A young writer named Michael Chabon listens in breath-held astonishment as his ailing grandfather, whose lifelong reticence has been vanquished by strong painkillers, tells the hidden stories of his past. The real-life Chabon (Telegraph
Avenue, 2012), a master of the ravishing sentence and the entrancing tale, creates,
in his most beautifully realized novel to date, avidly realized scenes of mayhem and
enchantment as his narrator’s ingenious and intractable maternal grandfather, an
electrical engineer obsessed with moon missions, recounts his hardscrabble South
Philly boyhood, clandestine adventures in WWII Germany tracking down Nazi
scientists (especially the man behind the V- 2 rocket, Wernher von Braun), and his
severely tested love for a deeply damaged French Holocaust survivor. A warrior to
the end, he also regales his attentive grandson with hilarious incidents of more recent
vintage involving his courting a neighbor at an assisted-living community in Florida
by hunting a python she fears has devoured her cat.
As towering a figure as the grandfather is, all of Chabon’s characters are complex
and commanding, including his alter-ego narrator’s pragmatic attorney mother, who,
as a stoic only child, was left with her Uncle Ray, a rabbi turned hustler, after her
mother’s harrowing struggle with her demons (so eerily dramatized) led to her being
institutionalized, and her father’s volcanic rage delivered him to prison. Chabon’s
grandly arching plot encompasses everything from early television to a moment of
stargazing awe shared (between bombardments) by a German priest and a Jewish
American soldier to the grim symbiosis between science and war crimes as America’s military striving
gives rise to the space program.
All is enacted beneath the bewitching light of the
moon, which summons romance (“Moonglow,” a
jazz standard, offers the refrain: “It must have been
moonglow / That led me straight to you”), madness,
and the high tides of war and ambition. Grandfather
tells grandson, “After I’m gone, write it down. Explain everything. Make it mean something.” Chabon
succeeds. By deftly infusing each spellbinding page
with historical facts entertaining and tragic, effervescent imagination, exceptional emotional intricacies,
striking social insights, brilliantly modulated drama,
canny wit, and profound and uplifting empathy and
compassion, Chabon has created a masterful and
resounding novel of the dark and blazing forces that
forged our tumultuous, confounding, and precious
world. Expect the cross-country author tour to get
literary-fiction readers buzzing.
It Must Have Been Moonglow
From V- 2 rockets to the space program and the grim symbiosis
between science and war crimes, Chabon’s latest novel mixes
historical fact with an effervescent imagination.
BY DONNA SEAMAN
By Michael Chabon.
Nov. 2016. 496p. Harper, $28.99
By Michael Helm.
Sept. 2016. 400p. Tin House, paper, $15.95
Following three characters whose stories
could just as well be independent novellas as
thematically connected chapters in a novel
with shifting literary styles, Helm’s fourth
book grapples with morality and identity in a
world in which privacy is all but unattainable.
A neuroscientist hiding out in an isolated
cabin intends to expose the dangers of a drug
she helped create, instead finding comfort
in the drug as she escapes an epic rainstorm
and tries to untangle the mysteries behind
a shadowy local sculptor. A failed poet pens
an online rant that earns him a job in Rome,
where he seeks to unearth the identity of a
controversial, anonymous online poet whose
work contains disturbing details about real-life murders. Suddenly lacking life direction,
a virologist heads to southern France to help
her father find Neanderthal artifacts in an
unexplored cave, setting off a multinational
adventure involving an artist who steals her
identity. By turns harrowing and memorable,
Helm’s tales resonate in an age of Internet
trolling and corrupt pharmaceutical companies, in which art and science blur ethical
boundaries. —Jonathan Fullmer
The Angel Tree.
By Lucinda Riley.
Oct. 2016. 672p. IPG/Pan, paper, $14.95
It’s been more than two decades since the
accident that erased Greta Marchmont’s
memories. She reluctantly agrees to spend
Christmas 1985 at Marchmont Hall, the
home of her long-dead husband, which now
belongs to his nephew, Greta’s friend, David.
The last thing Greta expects is for her memories to return, but when she happens upon
the gravestone of her deceased son, Jonny, she
starts to recall her life. We learn that, once a
penniless showgirl in London, Greta was left
pregnant by an American soldier. David, then
just beginning his career as a comic, sent Greta to Marchmont to give birth in peace. There
she met David’s uncle, Owen, who proposed
to her and offered to bring up her twins as his
own. But she was troubled by the way Owen
so obviously favored Jonny over Cheska, and
after the boy’s death, she was forced to return
to London with her daughter. Cheska became
a child star, but as the years go by, her emotional instability becomes more evident. This
page-turning, multigenerational sudser by
best-selling Riley ( The Storm Sister, 2016) will
appeal to fans of Barbara Taylor Bradford and
Penny Vincenzi. —Kristine Huntley
The Angels’ Share.
By J. R. Ward.
2016. 432p. NAL, $28 (9780451475282).
Ward’s Baldwine family returns in this
fast-paced, dramatic sequel. At the end of