“In my next life, I will either be a moth or a donkey cart driver. My mother always said, ‘Nothing as sad as a moth that thinks it’s found the moon in a candle flame.’ And that is who I am, or who I am meant to have been. I whisper under my breath, ‘Moon in a candle flame, moon in a candle flame.’ And it’s true. It’s sad but also beautiful.”
Kirsten Alene’s latest book, Moon Snake, collects two surreal novelettes, “Moon Snake” and “Cathedral Bone,” connected by themes of loss and broken relationships. I find describing these stories difficult. The best I can come up with is they’re like a mixture of Richard Brautigan and Miranda July except even more bizarre. The stories here function on dream logic and are written with a simple but poetic prose.
In “Moon Snake,” a community where people lives in avocado houses complete construction on a red bridge. The bridge leads to a mysterious place called Moon Snake. Meanwhile, a shortage of pear blossoms, an important ingredient in many of the things the community produces, is being blamed on the unnamed narrator and her best friend, Pecan Black. The unnamed narrator becomes increasingly confused as Moon Snake being connected with the community by the bridge messes with her memory, or perhaps with reality itself.
The narrator loses several loved over the course of the story. As a child, she and Pecan Black lose James, a dog who they’re forced to give up when they discover he’s actually a lion after he maims Pecan Black and eats several other people. She loses her sister, who seems to fade in and out of reality before she disappears entirely. Finally, she loses Pecan Black when he’s banished for stealing pear blossoms and causing the shortage.
I found the narrator’s relationship to her sister especially interesting. Her sister seems to fade away when she’s looking at her only to come back when she focuses on her. Finally, she goes away entirely. While she never sees her die, she knows that she’s gone for good. She simply became more and disconnected from this person she was once close too, then one day, she was gone.
When Pecan Black is exiled, the narrator decides she won’t let her best friend go. She sets fire to the avocado houses and chases after him in the ship they’ve been building throughout the story. She wants nothing more than to find him and speak to him one last time.
It’s an odd story with a lot of strange imagery. I’m tempted to call this story a fairy tale, but it seems too dream-like to fall into even that category. Even for all of its surreal imagery though, it still has a strong emotional core and a sense of melancholy pervading it.
The next story, “Cathedral Bones,” is similar in this regard.
“I know this house is meant for someone else. Even when the blank walls filled up with perfect images that I recognized and loved, the whole thing was meant for someone else. My lilac pedals are already melting in the heat and they are the only stain I’ll ever leave behind here.”
The narrator (also unnamed here) moves into house full of mastiffs fed pecans by blackbirds. When she’s not walking or otherwise taking care of the numerous mastiffs, she volunteers at a cathedral where the priest spends his free time making lemonade out of human bones. There, she meets a man she calls “the similar man” because his shape and size is almost exactly the same as hers. The two fall in love, but their relationship doesn’t last.
While this story has just as much strange imagery as “Moon Snake,” its plot is a bit more straightforward. It’s about a romantic relationship coming apart and the effect it has on the narrator’s life. The mastiffs begin turning into catfish causing an imbalance in the home. Pecans begin piling up with no mastiffs to eat them. Eventually, only one mastiff remains, one who had been caged because he bit someone, and he starts to shrink. The balance in her former life is gone and she can’t return to it.
Copy provided for review purposes
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Moon Snake's novelettes are sad and full of surreal yet beautiful imagery conveyed in poetic minimalist prose. Despite the dream-like narratives, both stories deal with the crumbling of relationships in ways that many would find they could easily empathize with.
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