Water on the Moon
Water on the Moon, by Jean P. Moore, is a novel about how to navigate one’s own path through changing families. The changes in the novel include becoming an older single woman, growing up female with a controlling father, finding out one was adopted as a child, and coming out as gay or lesbian.
I would not have picked up this novel on my own; I read it because one of the people from TLC asked me to consider reviewing it, as part of the plot centers around a mystery connected to the poet Byron. Although I do love poetry, I’m not in the target audience for this novel. I found it rather silly, full of characters who make lifetime commitments based on meeting once at an accident site or while driving another person to a doctor’s appointment. The family members’ interest in each other seemed perfunctory, taking up less of the main character’s time–the mother’s—than her research into the background of the pilot whose airplane hit her house. She is convinced there must be a connection, for no reason obvious to me.
Lidia, the main character, drives back to the airplane crash site where her house used to be the day after the crash and meets an FBI agent who introduces himself as Harry Caligan. She immediately calls him “Dirty Harry” and the narrator tells us “she was drawn to this appealing man.” Okay…she doesn’t know him. But when she goes back to the friend’s house where she is staying, her friend Polly (who met Lidia when Lidia volunteered for a ride service and took her to a doctor’s appointment) tells her “’There is no instinct like that of the heart.’ Byron. I was just reading that line. It’s from Don Juan, fourth canto.” Yep, Byron’s comic portrayal of the “world’s greatest (male) lover” is where I get all my dating advice, too.
Polly, who seems willing to have Lidia and her daughters, Carly and Clarisse, stay indefinitely, pressures Lidia to invite the girls’ father, Lidia’s ex-husband, and his partner Robert to Thanksgiving. Lidia says she isn’t ready, but Polly quotes Swinburne and points out that she has been keeping the girls from their father, so when they indicate that they’re ready, Lidia gives in, although not without inviting her own prospective boyfriend, Harry. The process of reconciliation begins, and then Harry agrees to go along with Lidia on her search for the meaning of why an airplane crashed into her house. She’s convinced there is a reason.
Harry and Lidia fly to Dayton to see the parents of the airplane’s dead pilot, Tina. I thought the writing reached a peak in chronicling the unnecessary along with the unconvincing details when they “grabbed lunch at the airport before getting their rental car,” as if they really like airport food or have so much money they don’t mind paying airport prices. At any rate, they find out that Tina always loved airplanes and flying, and that she was adopted. The grieving mother gives them her daughter’s last diary, and from one of Tina’s poems in the diary, Lidia comes to the conclusion that “the crash was no accident—and neither was diving into my house—this, from the line “tip my wings to one I never met” in a poem in a young girl’s diary.
In the course of Lidia’s research into Tina and her birth family’s background, she discovers a connection to Byron, and decides that “the allure of the Byron-Gamba family connection could not be denied.” She finds a portrait of Teresa Gamba Ghiselli, one of Byron’s lovers, and sees what she decides is a family resemblance to Tina, the dead pilot. As Lidia spends her days reading about Byron’s life and the love affair with Teresa, she asks herself, as readers of her own story must also be asking, “why do I care about these people….Was it because there was some assumed relationship—some connection to her? She only knew their story had touched her deeply. Who are they to me? she continued to ask herself….”
While Lidia is indulging in dreams of Byron, her daughter comes out to Polly and asks her help in coming out to her mother, who she must imagine will not take it well, after being left by her husband for another man. Polly breaks the news to Lidia gradually, so that at her first try “In the back of Lidia’s mind, a muffled voice was raising a question she couldn’t quite hear.” She goes back to solving the mystery about Byron and Tina, finding an old friend of her mother’s who knew someone who knew Tina’s great-aunt, who turns out to be also related to Lidia. She and Lidia have a conversation about overbearing fathers and missing daughters and she tells Lidia “never give up on those you love.” So when Polly gets sick, Lidia finds her adopted daughter and effects a bedside reconciliation.
At the end of the novel, Lidia decides not to move back into her rebuilt house and go back to her old job because “something happened, something as random as a stranger bumping into you on the street and then continuing on her way. Some would call it random, but Lidia would come to see it differently.” Even Lidia herself is “surprised at the speed at which it had all happened—as though it was meant to be.” But when Harry—still by her side–asks her if she’s happy, she thinks “I am now…knowing she would never think twice about her decision.”
One of the earlier reviewers on the blog tour for Water on the Moon, Bibliotica, came up with an interesting way to connect to this novel—she asked her readers what famous historical person they are related to, or who they wish they were related to. I thought about this, and decided that I don’t want to have Byron’s crazy genes; I want to have lunch with him, or go out on a rowboat and watch some of his posing, hear some of his stories. Perhaps the way I navigate through my family is to not think too much about my place in it. Some people, like the characters in this novel, treat new people they become fond of as family. I prefer to treat new people and family like friends—people I will travel to see, not because I’m obligated, but because we have a good time together.
Also, I think my amused attitude towards the whole idea of destiny was set at the age of eleven, when I first sat in the movie theater staring up at Gene Wilder, thrashing wildly back and forth on a pillow, chanting “destiny, destiny, no escaping that for me.”