Review of This Road Will Take Us Closer to the Moon by by Linda McCullough Moore • Levellers Press, 2011
Someone told me once that the worst hell that they could imagine would be the experience of being visited by the most flawless version of oneself: accomplished, content, confident and fully realized. In that moment, hell would be the great chasm between what you are, and what you could have been. The hell would continue as you lived the rest of your waking moments plagued by self-doubt, by questions, by the paralysis of this fragile life, a life of seemingly infinite possibilities. I understand that it is not standard protocol to begin a book review with such a morbid and curious picture, yet I think the scenario holds great weight. Many of us are trapped in the “what ifs”: what if that abuse had never happened, what if I had taken a different job, what if I had married someone else? What if I took a wrong turn four steps back, and it’s just too late to change? There is a dark suffering there, and not a simple one.
Somewhere out there, in a parallel universe, lives the you whose father did not die, who did not get leukemia, who was not haunted by depression, self-deprecation, or blinding pride. I believe it is into the chasm between our hopes and regrets that Linda McCullough Moore writes. In her collection of short stories This Road Will Take Us Closer to the Moon, she is crafting the suffering of the past and making of it something told, something communal. She allows the pain to be incurable, yet deafeningly beautiful.
The linked stories move along in a loose chronological pattern, following the perspective of a woman named Margaret McKenzie. Margaret’s stories begin with the childhood witness of deep flaws in family systems and end with the feebled, half- crazed, and touching antics of an elderly woman. Moore’s work is delightfully imperfect, somewhat awkwardly moving between moods, motifs, and characters. The reader, however, is reminded that we are messy people, moving among strangers with strange words. Moore’s wit and style describe this world well: sometimes quick, brief turns of thought and emotion are all we can muster; sometimes, merely standing seems to be an act of courage. Moore’s work is not presumptuous or assuming. She begins from her character’s rock bottom, from a foundation of failure that many will find honest. As her work continues, Moore progressively raises the stakes. Images add together as, timber by timber, a small and cozy shanty is built for the reader. Just a little bit of shelter is all we need, a place where we can feel comfortable enough to admit things like this:
The stories in This Road Will Take Us Closer to the Moon lead the reader through a myriad of scenarios: Margaret’s final day at work, Christmas with an immigrant family, the beside of a dying Episcopal priest, a visit to a childhood home, and the terse discomfort of time with in-laws, just to name a few. Moore describes in the most poignant ways how each day can simply be the story of trying to hold all the pieces together. Yet Moore’s work is far from disheartening. In surprising moments Moore shares with the reader delicate “half-truths” that only she can so magically offer. “Change does not come easily,” she writes. “You want to tip your hat to anything that slits the seam of your life open, even just a sliver-width, to allow for the possibility of rearrangement.” It is the embrace of mottled light, of chinks in the playground fence, in which our imagination flourishes. In such moments, Moore writes, “you want to bow and curtsy, even if you cannot give the thing a name.”
The work as a whole reminds us of the gentleness we must show ourselves, and that there is no greater antidote to despair than gratitude. With a subtlety that I have rarely seen in literature, Moore confronts deep lies that keep many in psychological bondage: lies about worthlessness, about social value, about permeating loneliness, about inescapable cycles of human pain. We may be broken, sooty, a pile of brown leaves—a rag doll made of rubber bands and old twigs—yet hopelessness only serves as an affront to whatever God may exist. Moore does not offer clichés, just a mere nudge to enlarge our thinking, to “Let it out of this room. Take it for a walk. Buy it a kite.” The reader is shown that mercy is not a do-over, and that grace sometimes means not going back. If you’re on Plan C, or Plan X for that matter, that plan will get you where you need to go. With a whisper, we will thank her, and slowly let our kites soar. This Road Will Take Us Closer to the Moon by Linda McCullough Moore • Levellers Press, 2011
Rita Jones graduated from Westmont College in 2010 with a degree in history and an English minor. This fall she will embark on her next journey in academia as a PhD student at the University of California, Santa Cruz. Her studies will include american intellectual history, women and gender, and american spirituality. Rita was raised on a small farm in the Puget Sound, Washington, and still holds a deep fondness for front porches, lilac blossoms, and cradling chicken eggs in the palm of her hand.
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