Book Reviews of We Find Ourselves In Moontown

We Find Ourselves In Moontown
We Find Ourselves In Moontown
Author: Jay Gummerman
ISBN-13: 9780394574592
ISBN-10: 0394574591
Publication Date: 3/25/1989
Pages: 174
Edition: 1st ed
Rating:
  • Currently 5/5 Stars.
 1

5 stars, based on 1 rating
Publisher: Knopf
Book Type: Hardcover
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From The New York Times,"Books of The Times; Disoriented, Desperate And Adrift in Moontown "
Review by: By MICHIKO KAKUTANI
Published: March 31, 1989

"In the title story of this wonderfully bizarre new collection, a security guard named Keepnews picks up a young sailor at the Las Vegas airport, and the two of them head for the desert, driving through the anonymous landscape, deep into the Nevada night. For no particular reason at all, Keepnews suddenly declares, ''We find ourselves in Moontown,'' then has the uncanny realization that ''he couldn't see the moon because this was the moon, just like he'd said, and that they were driving around in the Land-Rover looking for a place to put up the flag.'' It makes him think about his ''life back on earth,'' and how he ''could remember everything, the house where he lived, the color of its paint, the names of the people who lived there.''

In fact, sooner or later all of Jay Gummerman's characters find themselves in Moontown: they share Keepnews's sense of dislocation, his sense of watching his own life slip by. They are dismayed by the sight of their own faces in the mirror; startled by the sound of their voices, echoing across a long-distance line or bouncing off the walls of an empty house.

No doubt their disorientation has something to do with their fondness for marijuana - nearly all of them, teen-agers and grown-ups alike, are in the habit of lighting up joints - but it's also a reflection of a rather more general confusion in their lives. Most of them are in a state of transit, fleeing the past but uncertain of the future, caught between marriages or jobs, and vaguely desperate about their prospects. Distant relatives of Sam Shepard's drifters and Ann Beattie's space cadets, they tend to live in motels, unfurnished rooms or trailers - temporary places, where they can hang out, waiting for something else to happen.

In ''Lighthouse,'' two tour guides in a Nevada hick town pass the time together in a hotel, while they wait for phone calls (that may never come) from their respective spouses. In ''Russell's Honor,'' a con man, who's just escaped from prison, decides to seek refuge with his sister, whom he hasn't seen in a decade. And in ''The Painter,'' a man named Hurst has been fired for stealing a painting that his former girlfriend liked (''an impressionistic rendering of Jell-O salads. Five Jell-O salads in a lit deli case.''). He sits about his empty apartment, trying in vain to reach her by phone, when he's accosted by a door-to-door peddler - an importunate young girl who wants to sell him a magazine subscription, in hopes of herself winning an all-expenses-paid trip to Disney World.

Yet if these people spend half their time dwelling in a state of suspended animation, they spend the other half trying to cope with the sudden, unreasoned outbursts of love and disaster that periodically overtake their lives. As one character puts it, ''It was like what they said about the universe, that there was nothing in your life for years at a time and then, boom, you came up'' on something new, and ''it overwhelmed you, and you couldn't remember what happened in your life before.'' A collision with a truck kills a man and leaves his son, an aspiring baseball pitcher, without an arm. A poet drives out to the local recycling center and puts a bullet through his head. Another man tries to asphyxiate himself in a two-car garage, but finds his automobile has run out of gas - an event that his sister takes as a sign of God, Who has spared her brother because he looks like Jesus Christ.

Such incongruous details are prodigally scattered throughout Mr. Gummerman's stories, details that lend his tales a strange, almost surreal texture. We watch as a group of elementary school students dress up, for Flag Day, as various states: one student, who has covered herself with yellow spray-painted marshmallows, is supposed to represent Iowa, the corn state; another, dressed as a huge Mr. Potato Head, supposedly stands for Idaho.

In the title story, the hero notices a group of women at the Las Vegas airport carrying ''gift-boxed gambling sets: cards, dice, miniature roulette wheels,'' and he imagines ''them playing poker with their grandchildren, taking them for what little they had, and compensating them with hollow chocolate bunnies at Easter.'' And in ''Pinocchio's,'' a man and a woman, waiting for the arrival of the woman's boyfriend, gaze out the window at ''the faded brick back of the Italian restaurant where someone had spray-painted REINVENT THE WORLD, and above this on the roof, a neon sign in the figure of Pinocchio with his nose growing long, then short, then long again.''

Children dressed as vegetables, old women clutching miniature gambling paraphernalia, neon cartoon figures blinking in the night - these phenomena do not seem particularly odd to Mr. Gummerman's characters; rather, they are accepted as everyday manifestations of modern life. Indeed, the people in these stories all speak in a loopy collection of jokes, non sequiturs and cliches that perfectly mirrors the off-kilter world they inhabit. ''I might as well get on to whatever havoc I had left in me to wreck,'' says one character. ''I think everybody should live outside and have their backyards inside,'' says another. ''You know, like a big terrarium.''

Mr. Gummerman's ear for the absurdities of contemporary speech, combined with his eye for the eccentric detail, gives these stories an immediacy and hipness that counterpoint the sadness and desperation that lurk beneath the giddy surface of his characters' lives. By turns funny and disturbing, weird and recognizable, ''We Find Ourselves in Moontown'' marks the debut of an immensely gifted and original writer. "

4 Star novel!