The Man Who Fell in Love With the Moon, by Tom Spanbauer


This summer we’ll be reading three books based on a singular concept: The Summer of Love, LGBT Edition. The books will be love stories, loosely defined, by and about the LGBT community. We’ve chosen our first two books: Giovanni’s Room by James Baldwin (meeting July 27th) and The Autobiography of Alice B. Toklas by Gertrude Stein (meeting August 31st). Now we must choose our third book. Over the next few weeks, I’ll be posting some of the suggestions people have made. These will be cut and paste reviews, and not my personal thought (I have not read any of these yet). Feel free to post suggestions below.  We’ll be meeting June 29th at BookPeople to discuss Cormac McCarthy’s Cities of the Plain and make our decision.

The Man Who Fell in Love With the Moon

By Tom Spanbauer

Reviewed in the New York Times here:

For Love of a Green-Eyed Cowboy

By Jerome Charyn;
Published: September 22, 1991

THE MAN WHO FELL IN LOVE WITH THE MOON By Tom Spanbauer. 355 pp. New York: A Morgan Entrekin Book/ The Atlantic Monthly Press.

Tom Spanbauer’s novel “The Man Who Fell in Love With the Moon” is a revisionist tale of the Wild West, told by a young half-Indian male prostitute known as Mr. Shed. “It’s a story about crazy people told by a crazy,” Shed would have us believe. But Shed’s voice has all the craziness of the heart, that deep wound of the disconnected self, the longing and the sense of loneliness that force us to build our own mythological tribe out of nothingness and human dust.

“What’s a human being without a story?” the narrator slyly asks us at the end, when he’s become a “crazy old drag queen” known as The Man Who Fell in Love With the Moon. The miracle of the novel is that it obliges us to rethink our whole idea of narration and history and myth. It reminds one of Thomas Berger’s “Little Big Man,” which sings its own remarkable song about the insanity of Custer’s last stand. “The Man Who Fell in Love With the Moon” doesn’t have Gen. George Armstrong Custer or Wild Bill Hickok to entertain us, but it is about senseless human slaughter, endless “last stands” where everybody seems to die, the good and the bad, the tybos (white people), the tutybos (“black white people”) and the Indians, Shed’s own mother’s people, who sit around their fires howling at the moon. “Outside the light of the fire, in the darkness beyond, all around them was only flat, only sagebrush and wind,” Shed says. “Fences all around them, reservation — and beyond, in the darkness within the darkness, all around them was Keep Out, all around them was Property of the United States Government, all around them, surrounding my mother’s people, was America.”

“All of us,” his mother had once told him, “– the four-leggeds, the winged ones, the fish, the animals who crawl, the two-leggeds — what we really are, are spirits trapped inside our bodies, begging to be set free.”

And while he’s on a reservation, seeking his mother’s lost tribe, Shed watches the Indians around him, lurching forward, one step at a time, “as if there was only that one step.”

These Indians “weren’t just drunk, though.” They were deathly tired. “My mother’s people had come to this: to this dusty road with nothing left but the step they were taking.”

Mr. Spanbauer, the author as well of the novel “Faraway Places,” captures the music of the mind and the body taking that “one step,” isolated and all alone. It’s a kind of poisoned lyricism that delivers us into the heart of darkness. In one apocalyptic moment of the novel, Shed stands inside a Government slaughterhouse and realizes: “Up to that time in my life, I’d heard about the devil . . . but up to that time . . . I had never been so close to the smell, to the scream, so close to the deranged that was how the devil was.”

Shed is a Berdache, a holy man who makes love with other men. He’s constantly at war with the devil, and the devil assumes the shape and form of a tybo called Billy Blizzard, who years ago raped Shed and murdered his mother. “My mother died this way: Billy Blizzard beat her to death.” Billy Blizzard is only a name, after all — a maddening white storm that obliterates everything: time and history and language itself. And Shed fights against it to preserve his language and his sense of time.

He falls in love with a philosophical, green-eyed cowboy, Dellwood Barker, who may be his own dad. He sits “on the edge of the world” with Dellwood Barker and sings to himself. “The only thing that keeps us from floating off with the wind is our stories. They give us a name and put us in a place, allow us to keep on touching.” The Devil means to destroy all that.

The only person who stands between Shed and the Devil is Dellwood Barker, that “half-baked, harebrained, foolhardy, moonstruck drunk of a man” who created his own moon language. “Moon language is mind language. . . . I turned the world into myself.”

With his horse, Abraham Lincoln, and his dog, Metaphor, Dellwood reinvents the world, just as Shed, a boy who never went to school, has to discover his own alphabet, his own language of human signs, signals and songs. Shed grows up at the Indian Head Hotel in Excellent, Idaho, where Ida Richilieu is the mayor, hotel mistress and local historian. He is coveted by men and women. While sleeping with one of the whores, Alma Hatch, he tells us: “I could see it — language — coming up to her mouth from down inside her deep.”

Shed doesn’t hunger for any “dumb song about tybos kissing and fainting and carrying on,” but for the cry of the moon, which is like the crazy, wicked touch “that feels so good you hurt for all the times you never felt it.” It’s this particular “touch,” this dancing skin, that reverberates throughout the novel.

Shed has his own fall from grace. He discovers that he is, in fact, no half-breed boy. He’s not the son of an Indian princess, and Dellwood Barker isn’t his dad. He’s a poor miserable tybo whose mother is Ida Richilieu and whose father is the Devil himself, Billy Blizzard. Shed has learned to speak with his own Devil’s tongue.

“The Man Who Fell in Love With the Moon” is finally a novel about the “fall” of language, about the nothingness of myth and the destructibility of creation. Tom Spanbauer’s Wild West is the hurly-burly of the mind. He takes us into territories where few of us would ever dare go. Like William H. Gass in “The Pedersen Kid,” Mr. Spanbauer throws us into that blizzard of white space between every word, where all of us do our own little dance of life and death. DELLWOOD’S STORY

Me and Dellwood were standing on a ledge near the top of the pile of rocks that was Buffalo Head. Over the side, to the west, you could see as far as the bright world went. . . . “When the time comes, this is where I’m coming to die,” Dellwood said. “Story goes if you live your life being true to your heart, you’ll find a place like this where you can come to when you die, and you can tell the story of your life out loud to all of nature listening. Death has got to wait until you’re done with your singing and dancing and whatever else you got to do to get your story told.

“By telling your story, the knowledge you have will become understanding. And that — knowledge becoming understanding — is better than anything there is to feel.”

You never knew what was going to come out of Dellwood Barker’s mouth. That’s why I liked him so much. Probably why my mother had liked him too. Most of all, though, I liked that a tybo could be a man like him, and that a man like him could be my father. — From “The Man Who Fell in Love With the Moon.”



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