Tuesday, June 1, 2010

Moon Struck: The Girl Who Chased the Moon

Girl Who Chased the Moon by Sarah Addison Allen (F ALL Avoca)

Reviewed by Jeanne

Full disclosure: I’m not a fan of the Southern Grotesque. I know, writers have won prizes and honors writing about damaged people and places and yes, I know there are people like that. It’s just that I never saw them as oddities, but simply a part of life; and I never liked books that held them up for examination and dissection, like some sort of exotic insect. I’m also not attracted to the “quaint Southern fiction” which features naïve people agape at them there big city ways which prove to be inferior to good ol’ homespun life or the reverse, where the small town folk are small-minded as well. I’ve usually found the truth to be in between.

That’s why I’m somewhat wary of books tagged “Southern fiction.” I tend to regard such with more than a pinch of suspicion.

However, I kept reading the most intriguing reviews about The Girl Who Chased the Moon. Magical, they said. Enchanted and enchanting, bewitching and beguiling, they said. Lyrical, they said. Lesa's was the tipping point, when I put the book on reserve for myself, just to see for myself if this was as good as advertised. (Lesa's Book Critiques is must reading for me, and anyone who likes thoughtful, well-written book reviews. See for yourself: http://lesasbookcritiques.blogspot.com/)

Know what? The reviews were right. This is a book I was loathe to put down but I dreaded seeing end. Allen has a town spun of cotton candy but without the nasty sticky sweetness of that particular confection, a place both modern and timeless; a place of stardust and moonlight but with bit of straw tucked between its teeth, a plate of North Carolina barbecue balanced on its lap and a big piece of Milky Way cake on the side. (Yes, food abounds; from pizza to pastry, barbecue to stack cake. Cake is a welcome, a character says, except for coconut. Coconut cake and fried chicken are for funerals.)

The story opens as Emily Benedict arrives in Mullaby, North Carolina with all her worldly possessions packed into two duffle bags. Her mother, Dulcie, had never told Emily anything about her past, nothing about the town where she had grown up, and nothing about the giant of man who is Emily’s grandfather, who seems almost as bewildered as Emily by this turn of events. It doesn’t take long before Emily finds out that no one else seems to share her view of her mother. The Dulcie Emily knew was the eternal crusader for good, out to save the planet and help others, a woman who founded a school to promote justice and caring. Who is this other Dulcie, the spoiled only child who did something so terrible that an entire town isn’t about to forgive her—or her daughter?

I fell in love with every character; well, maybe not Julia’s stepmother, a gold-digging self centered piece of work. However, Mullaby—and yep, I’m sure the resemblance to “Lullaby” is intentional— is the kind of place where you know in your bones there is some justice in the world. There’s Julia, the former wild child who was a cutter and bears the scars to prove it, who came back to bake cakes in her late father’s restaurant until she earns enough to pay off the debts. Then she’ll be off to pursue her own dreams of a pastry shop in New York. There’s Sawyer Anderson, the only man Julia ever loved, who seems to show up everywhere and who can feel cake in the air. There’s Win Coffey, a handsome young man who seems drawn to Emily, yet whose family has suffered the most from whatever Dulcie had done. There’s Vance, Emily’s gigantic grandfather, who inspired awe and fear but who is as gentle as a fawn and almost as timid.

And there are the Mullaby lights, these strange lights that appear in the town after dark and who seem especially to appear around Emily. Are they ghosts? Swamp gas? Swarms of fireflies? Or --something else?

The writing is fine, and I mean that in the drawn out pronunciation, as in fine wines. Allen has a way of explaining things that is at once poetic and practical. For example, Julia’s description of Southern men: “They remind you of something good—picnics or carrying sparklers around at night. Southern men will hold doors open for you, they’ll hold you after you yell at them, and they’ll hold onto their pride no matter of what. Be careful what they tell you, though. They have a way of making you believe anything, because they say it THAT WAY.”

I might say the same thing about Sarah Addison Allen.

I also wonder if she will share that stack cake recipe.

(Update: She does! Along with Red Velvet, Lane Cake and Southern Peach Pound Cake! Check out her website:
for recipes, an interactive map of Mullaby and more.)

1 comment:

  1. Jeanne,

    Thank you! I'm glad my review was the tipping point so you read this wonderful book. And, thank you for the comment about thoughtful, well-written book reviews. In means a lot to me.