Tuesday, June 12, 2007

talking about the moon

I just finished reading Noel Alumit’s second novel, Talking to the Moon, and while the cover does not feature a martini glass, a pair of high-heeled shoes or a bodice in the process of being ripped, I hope you will put it on your beach reading lists, because it’s good.

Talking to the Moon tells the story of a “Filipino American” family (to borrow the phrase that the son’s Taiwanese boyfriend is always baffled by—why, he wonders, are America’s Asians so quick to identify with a country that wreaks havoc on their self esteem?): father Jory, an altar boy turned pagan healer and mailman; mother Belen, a nurse who will talk to any deity who will listen, most frequently Mary; and their angry son Emerson, who talks to his dead brother on the phone, but can’t say much of anything—especially not “I love you”—to his boyfriend.

The book begins when Jory is shot while delivering mail by a racist man fresh from shooting up a Jewish daycare center. This really happened in L.A. a few years ago, and it seems clear that Noel was inspired to think about what the aftermath of such an event might be—about what the victims are like outside of their victimhood.

But what he, and the reader, seems to discover is that all premature losses play out similarly. They are unfair, devastating, and they are opportunities for love and reminiscing. In this way, the evilness of the hate crime may be lessened, but so is its power. In the same way that featuring a non-sexualized female character can be a much more radical act that featuring a female character who “owns” her sexuality or some other postmodern gimmick, simply relegating the racist to the background and letting the Filipino characters live their lives is pretty ballsy.

Belen’s eventual decision not to pursue the most severe punishment for the gunman is treated almost as an aside, but it’s important: This comes after a lifetime of love and anger—not the least of which comes from her own mother, who literally cursed her for marrying the wrong man—and choosing love (or at least denying hate) ends the bargaining and strategizing that occur when people treat faith like a game.

Much of the novel is told in flashback, and yet it maintains a strong, subtle forward momentum. Another testament to Noel’s craft (which has come a long way since his nevertheless impressive debut, Letters to Montgomery Clift) is the fact that, unlike most books employing multiple points of view, I didn’t get bored during any character’s narrative.

My only beef with Talking to the Moon is its marketing. The cover features a discreetly nude young man for no apparent reason, and the blurb on the back announces it as a “gay-themed novel.” As much as I get annoyed when writers are too quick to say, “I’m not a gay [black, Latino, Asian, woman] writer, I’m just a writer” (because, come on, support your community a little bit), I think Noel would be right to be irked by a book description that is simply inaccurate.

One of the three main characters is gay, but if that makes the book a gay novel, it’s also a Pacific Islander novel, an L.A. novel, a religious novel, a straight novel, a flight attendant novel, a nursing novel, a nonprofit novel and maybe even a skateboarding novel. It is all of those things, of course, and it’s this richness of character and information that makes it worth reading.


jenny said...

well, i love nothing more than a good flight attendant novel, so i'll have to put this on my beach reading list. but replace "beach" with "train" since i really don't do beaches.

Cheryl said...

Even though L.A. has great beaches and sucky trains, I do a lot more train than beach reading myself.

Jamie said...

I like reading best in beds.

Cheryl said...

I like that too, but it usually turns into one of my other favorite activities: sleeping.

thelastnoel said...

thankyouthankyouthankyou for this post. You get it. You really get it. It's cool when themes that I had in mind are picked up by the reader. Most appreciated.

Cheryl said...

Hey, thanks for writing it and keeping me entertained!