Book Review: Girl In The Moonlight
Charles Dubow’s new novel, Girl in the Moonlight, like his debut novel, Indiscretion, is admittedly a tribute to The Great Gatsby. And, like Dubow’s earlier book, a compelling story about obsession and love.
For Gatsby, who comes from the demimonde, Daisy Buchanan is the incarnation of the golden girl, her voice “full of money.” For Dubow’s upper-class narrator Wylie Rose, however, the siren-goddess who claims his heart, mind, body, and soul attracts him for reasons other than money, which she has plenty of.
Cesca Bonet is his “passion,” his “craving,” his “magnetic north,” a strikingly beautiful, erotic force of nature. Through the years he aches for Cesca, whom he sees every now and then, when she summons him, her voice raspy, full of sexual promise. And he always goes and hopes and is hurt.
Signaling what’s to come, Dubow draws the epigraph for his book from Homer’s Odyssey, referencing the sirens “who beguile all men whosoever comes to them.”
What raises this romance fiction to the realms of literature is Dubow’s absorbing exploration of character and his non-judgmental, detailed observations of the privileged “cottage” set of East Hampton and Amagansett. Who were they, what did they wear, what did they drink and eat, what did they want for themselves and their children?
Dubow’s done his homework. He also knows how to craft a plot that moves easily across the decades, giving the novel the feel of a saga. From the very first page his sometimes spare, Hemingway-like prose invites the reader to settle in for an engaging tale, a book likely to be finished in a couple of days.
As the story begins, Wylie’s come back to his old family house, now abandoned. Memory takes over, when he first fell under Cesca’s spell at her family’ nearby estate when they were children, and then of when they met six years later and she took him down to the beach at night to seduce him.
Wylie is aware of the pain Cesca continually inflicted on him only to be cast off again and again and the pain he caused others when he succumbed to her siren call.
“Like Prometheus,” he said, “I had my innards regularly torn out, but unlike him I longed for the rock.” Eventually the narrative takes an existential turn, as Wylie contemplates how “courage” is essential to action, but also “conviction,” and how suddenly, often by accident, wisdom can be supplanted by instinct. With irony, and a surprising turn of events toward the end, Dubow refines his theme: knowledge is not power. Like Gatsby, Wylie knows the truth but is powerless to act because of the dictates of his heart. He lives on though, unlike Gatsby, and illustrates Fitzgerald’s famous last line as it’s enunciated by the narrator of The Great Gastby:
So we beat on, boats against the current, borne back ceaselessly into the past.