Catalogue

COVID-19: Updates on library services and operations.

Moon's crossing /
Barbara Croft.
imprint
Boston : Houghton Mifflin, 2003.
description
x, 198 p.
ISBN
0618341536
format(s)
Book
Holdings
More Details
imprint
Boston : Houghton Mifflin, 2003.
isbn
0618341536
catalogue key
4880705
A Look Inside
Excerpts
Excerpt from Book
In august of 1914, on the eve of World War I, Jim Moon, then sixty-eight years old, stepped off the stern of a ferry in New York harbor just as the boat passed under the Brooklyn Bridge. A schoolteacher on holiday who happened to witness Moon's exit reported that he was reciting "Song of Myself": Born here of parents born here from parents the same . . . Moon sank like a stone and failed to rise. "That's impossible," a policeman said. Nevertheless, it was three days before the body surfaced, a full day more before Jim Moon's remains were identified through the piecing together of random clues discovered in his personal effects. No one knew him except a girl in a hotel room near Second Avenue, the accidental executor of Jim Moon's meager estate. "He left these," she told the policeman. "Pictures." The girl produced a sizable stack of drawings, done in chalk on brown parcel paper. "So, your man was an artist." The girl shrugged. They were architectural drawings, crudely rendered. Clearly, whoever had made them lacked the benefits of formal artistic training. Yet, in the sweep of the line, the selection of detail, the bold rendering of negative space, the work showed a certain unmistakable native ability. "Castles in Spain, he called them," the girl said. There were also several books, prominent among them a thick green reference work called Harper's Chicago and the World's Fair, published by a New York house in 1892. The Harper's was badly worn- shattered, a rare-book dealer would say-the pages dog-eared and stained. The boards were loose and held together by a frayed length of faded purple ribbon, and tucked between the pages were a number of yellowed newspaper clippings, along with assorted pamphlets and tracts and a lithograph of a stately, impassive woman, holding aloft a scepter and a globe. "What's this?" The policeman held up a sketch of a tree stump, rendered precisely to scale on quadrille paper. "That's his stone." The weight of Jim Moon's boots and linen trousers pulled him down. For the first few seconds he held his breath. My respiration and inspiration, the beating of my heart, the passing of blood and air through my lungs . . . The policeman studied the sketch of Moon's tombstone. "So, he intended to pull a Brodie." The sunlight faded above Moon's head. The river sealed over him and grew increasingly cold. The turmoil on the docks subsided until he heard only the intimate silence of water. Spiraling down, Moon saw nothing but darkness, saw everything. Drifting, he nudged against a jagged angle of iron and caught. His hair fanned out like a dirty halo. His arms, crooked at the elbow, lifted and fell with the current, moving like wings. Meanwhile, in Iowa, a burly stonecutter named Hubert Olsen was driving toward a small town south of Winterset with a tombstone in his wagon. Winslow Homer Moon was about to receive his inheritance. The fact that the stone was delivered on the day of Jim Moon's death was coincidental. Olsen had finished the work that morning and, being eager to collect, decided to close up shop and deliver the stone that afternoon. Stopping to inquire at Varner's dry-goods store-Olsen, of course, was looking for Jim Moon-he was directed to Sweetbriar, a second- rate boarding house just north of the square. There he wrestled the stone from the wagon and set it up ceremoniously in the yard. "I won't accept it," Winslow said. Something about the stone made Win uneasy. "Where I come from," Olsen told him, "young men shoul
First Chapter
In august of 1914, on the eve of World War I, Jim Moon, then sixty-eight years old, stepped off the stern of a ferry in New York harbor just as the boat passed under the Brooklyn Bridge. A schoolteacher on holiday who happened to witness Moon's exit reported that he was reciting "Song of Myself": Born here of parents born here from parents the same . . . Moon sank like a stone and failed to rise. "That's impossible," a policeman said. Nevertheless, it was three days before the body surfaced, a full day more before Jim Moon's remains were identified through the piecing together of random clues discovered in his personal effects. No one knew him except a girl in a hotel room near Second Avenue, the accidental executor of Jim Moon's meager estate. "He left these," she told the policeman. "Pictures." The girl produced a sizable stack of drawings, done in chalk on brown parcel paper. "So, your man was an artist." The girl shrugged. They were architectural drawings, crudely rendered. Clearly, whoever had made them lacked the benefits of formal artistic training. Yet, in the sweep of the line, the selection of detail, the bold rendering of negative space, the work showed a certain unmistakable native ability. "Castles in Spain, he called them," the girl said. There were also several books, prominent among them a thick green reference work called Harper's Chicago and the World's Fair, published by a New York house in 1892. The Harper's was badly worn shattered, a rare-book dealer would saythe pages dog-eared and stained. The boards were loose and held together by a frayed length of faded purple ribbon, and tucked between the pages were a number of yellowed newspaper clippings, along with assorted pamphlets and tracts and a lithograph of a stately, impassive woman, holding aloft a scepter and a globe. "What's this?" The policeman held up a sketch of a tree stump, rendered precisely to scale on quadrille paper. "That's his stone."The weight of Jim Moon's boots and linen trousers pulled him down. For the first few seconds he held his breath. My respiration and inspiration, the beating of my heart, the passing of blood and air through my lungs . . .The policeman studied the sketch of Moon's tombstone. "So, he intended to pull a Brodie."The sunlight faded above Moon's head. The river sealed over him and grew increasingly cold. The turmoil on the docks subsided until he heard only the intimate silence of water. Spiraling down, Moon saw nothing but darkness, saw everything. Drifting, he nudged against a jagged angle of iron and caught. His hair fanned out like a dirty halo. His arms, crooked at the elbow, lifted and fell with the current, moving like wings.Meanwhile, in Iowa, a burly stonecutter named Hubert Olsen was driving toward a small town south of Winterset with a tombstone in his wagon. Winslow Homer Moon was about to receive his inheritance. The fact that the stone was delivered on the day of Jim Moon's death was coincidental. Olsen had finished the work that morning and, being eager to collect, decided to close up shop and deliver the stone that afternoon. Stopping to inquire at Varner's dry-goods storeOlsen, of course, was looking for Jim Moonhe was directed to Sweetbriar, a second- rate boarding house just north of the square. There he wrestled the stone from the wagon and set it up ceremoniously in the yard. "I won't accept it," Winslow said. Something about the stone made Win uneasy. "Where I come from," Olsen told him, "young men shoulder their debts." Winslow explained that the stone was not his debt, not anything to do with him, but Olsen was determined to collect. He produced a letter that Moon had written him, in effect a purchase order, signed in Moon's own hand, along with a rough design for the stone that Moon himself had sketched on butcher paper. "He is your father," Olsen said, "this James R. Moon?"Hooked. A jagged scrap of rusty iron had hold of Moon's sleeve. He undulated in purgatorial waters. A brawny gaff man on the surface fished for Moon with a slender pole, swirling the hook in figure eights, but Moon was agile and weightless. He danced away. "Get a net," somebody hollered. Voices, footsteps. Moon paid no attention. I am satisfiedI see, dance, laugh . . . Disaffected, finished now with beginnings and with endings, and not expecting his life to pass before himnot, at least, in any orderly fashionMoon welcomed instead a crude kaleidoscope of fragments, shards of the old naive totality."Almost fifty-five dollars," Mrs. Maythorpe gasped. "How will you ever pay for it, Mr. Moon?" Mrs. Maythorpecalled Mother by her boarderswas the proprietor of Sweetbriar, where Win Moon had been living since he graduated from high school and took a job with the Reverend Cyrus Rayburn as handyman at the Open Bible Church. "I simply cannot comprehend," she said, "what in the world your father could have been thinking. A thing like that." The "thing" was, in fact, a sort of pulpit, three feet eight inches high, carved in cream-colored Iowa limestone to resemble a tree stump, probably oak, twined with ivy. Calla lilies grew at the base, and on the top this was the part that Winslow found disturbing lay an open stone book. "The Book of Life," Pastor Rayburn said, passing Mother Maythorpe's yard and stopping to admire the monument. "Wherein we may read of our sins and our glory." Winslow had no sins and precious little glory, except perhaps for Caroline, Mrs. Maythorpe's daughter, a stubborn girl of modest looks and impeccable common sense, the perfect mate with whom to live an ordinary life. "He must of been crazy," Caroline said. Winslow loved this girl with an ardor that far exceeded her merits and would have married her gladly if only he could resolve certain life questions he had and acquire enough money to win over her practical nature. Their future was compromised, however, by Win's poverty and by the reputation for lunacy Jim Moon had gathered around his family, and now by this unexpected debt, beneath which Winslow squirmed like a bug on a pin. "Pastor can only pay me sixteen dollars a week," Win said, talking mostly to himself. "And there's my education and my board." Unable to afford the seminary in Des Moines, Win was taking a correspondence course from the Shipley Institute for Self-Improvement in Chicago. "Well, Mother says you can't leave that thing in the yard," Caroline said. "People talk so." "I know." "Mother says people say . . . Well, you know what they say, and they say that your father Well, Win, he couldn't have loved you very much. Not really." "I know." "Or he would have made a home for you, Mother says. That's what people do." "Caroline, please." "People don't wander around the world for no good reason and never come home like your father." Caroline was relentless on the subject of Jim Moon. "Well, do they?"It was late afternoon in Lower Manhattan, and something about the setting sun through the latticework of the bridgethe black and the redmade Moon's final choice seem obvious. He stood up and stretched, a tall man. He drew a last deep breath of harbor air and savored itfishy, rank, sun-shot, copper-edgedand began to recite. I celebrate myself and sing myself . . . When he reached a suitable stopping point, he stepped out of his life."A lunatic." Caroline turned her back on the stone. "And what does that make me, then?" Winslow said. "The man was a seeker of truth in a timeless text." Pastor Rayburn ran a fingertip down a blank page of Jim Moon's limestone book as though he were in search of a particularly relevant passage. "And no man dares reproach him." He looked at Winslow. Winslow did reproach his father, howeveror at least he tried. Egged on by Caroline, Win nodded sagely whenever old Moon's faults were catalogued. "Well, I guess he was sort of eccentric," he said. "Eccentric?" Caroline affected a wide, theatrical stare. "Eccentric? He was a loony bird. Who else would buy a cement tree stump?" "It's stone." "He must have been boiled as an owl, three sheets to the wind." "Caroline." "Oh, Win. You know what they say." In fact, there was some truth to her assertion: Jim Moon had commissioned the stone after a two-day binge of savage drinking. But even if Win had known this fact, he would have tried to deny it. Yes, he was hurt and angry, and yes, he agreed, in theory, that Jim Moon was a sorry excuse for a man. But like most lonely children, Win had learned to comfort himself through imagination, constructing, over the years, a private, blameless make-believe father. This storybook Moon was handsome, wise, brave, a splendid soldier. He was heroic, of course, but without conceita bold horseman, a crackerjack shot. He was an irresistible ladies" man. Win spent many idle moments filling in the details of this portrait and eluding the factual snares that would have "proven" what Moon really was. This wasn't easy in a small town where "what they say" became, with sufficient repetition, the truth. The facts were hard, what few of them Win knew: that, in October of 1893, Jim Moon, a middle-aged man by then, had left his young wife, Mae and Winslow, less than three months oldto visit the World's Columbian Exposition in Chicago, and that, for whatever reason, he never came home. Win's mother disappeared the following summer under "mysterious circumstances," and Winslow was taken in by a neighbor lady, Mrs. Ross. He became "that Moon boy," an isolated, melancholy creature who lived with an invisible mark upon him. Pitied and held in awe by the town as someone whose fate forever remained suspended, Win grew up the same way bread dough swells, out of some ferment inside but without direction. When Mrs. Ross passed on some twenty years later, Winslow Homer Moon was still not "settled.""Win told Hue Olsen just to take that crazy tombstone right on back," Caroline bragged at supper. Win blanched. "Caroline, I did not." "Win's got a level head on his shoulders," Mother Maythorpe said. Caroline heaped potatoes on her plate and splashed on the thick beef gravy. "Said Jim Moon was no concern of his." "Well, not in so many words," Win said. "Integrity," Mother Maythorpe said, beaming at Win. She passed him the succotash. "Some people have it, and some people don't." "Course, in the end, he had to agree to take it on and pay. That's the law." Caroline hacked at her skirt steak. "But, Mama, you should of seen our Winnie standing up to that man." In point of fact, Win had done no such thing. As in most confrontations, he had wilted after a brief show of reluctance, and Olsen had bullied him into accepting the stone by scowling deeply and flexing his muscles. Win folded like a paper fan and agreed to pay a dollar a week until the debt was cleared. It had not been a proud moment. Now, however, hearing Caroline's version of the story, Win reconsidered and seemed to remember that perhaps he had been somewhat decisive. "Well, it was so unexpected," he said. Caroline smiled. "I think you done exactly right," she told him. She buttered a slab of bread. "And as for that old stone, why, you know what?" She leaned over and patted his hand. "We're just gonna chop that up into gravel."The policeman was young and ambitious, a thick, redheaded Irishman with an eye to politics. This waterlogged old codger just could be the ticket. Word on the street was, there was a runner missing, an old man like the stiff in question with the same gray beard and bony physique, supposed to deliver a very interesting bundle from New Jersey to certain higher-ups on the Lower East Side. Only the thing was, the bundle had never arrived. The policeman glanced at the girl. "What?" Naturally, these higher-ups were not pleased. They might be grateful if, in the line of duty, a lowly foot patrolman like himself helping to identify some poor unfortunate and return his sorry remains to his grieving familywere, by chance, to recover that selfsame bundle. The policeman straddled a wooden chair and draped his arms over the backrest. "So who is this old duffer, anyhow?" he said. "Your da?" The girl wouldn't answer. "Don't tell me he's your beau." The girl stood by the window. Morning sunlight cut across her belly and hips and left her face in shadow. "Of course, we know a bit about him already." The policeman had no qualms about lying if it persuaded the girl to open up. "I'm not at liberty to give you the full details, but . . . His involvement in the rackets, for instance." "Well, if you know so much, you don't need me." "I wouldn't say that." The two of them eyed each other, wary. "It's a complicated business," he said. She was scrawny, plain, with dirty brown hair that separated into thin, hopeless strands. Nineteen or twenty, sullen, but with a melancholy that the policeman thought he could use. He stood up and stretched. "You know," he said, trying to scare her, "you just might be implicated here." Her eyes were red. Her dingy yellow silk wrapper was belted loosely at the waist. Tired, sad. Could a street girl be mourning? "Accomplice, accessory. People have been known to go to jail for helping other folks do wrong." This seemed to get to her. "He didn't do no wrong." The room was hot. The air was close and stuffy. The room was dark, and it didn't help that the walls had been painted a spiritless olive green. The floor was rough oak planking, dull and unpainted, worn by the ebb and flow of hundreds of men. There was a braided oval rug in shades of brown and an old brass wind-up clock on the floor beside the bed. The girl stepped out of the light. "What's your name?" The policeman had begun to search the room. "Never mind who I am. It's the old man we're talking about." The door had been left open to catch what little breeze there was, hiding Moon's old gabardine coat, hung on a wire hook on the back of the door. "I'd say it's John or Michael." The girl hoped to distract him. "A saint or an angel." "It's Michael," he said. "Mike, Mickey, Mick." "Fine." The policeman was losing his patience. "Now who's this man of yours and where's the money?" She thought for a moment, weighing her options. "I'm waiting on my lawyer," she told him. The policeman smiled. He took off his cap and wiped his forehead, grinning, and shook his head. "Sure, that's a good one," he said. "What?" "Your lawyer." "I got friends." He studied her face, trying to pierce the pale forehead, glimpse the complex engine of her mind, its cunning arrangement of spinning wheels and silver gears. The flash of thought. Probably wondering right now what to tell him and how and how much and in what sequence. Calculating. The girl ticked like a watch. "I met him in a bar," she said finally. "Dugan's, I think it was." "And?" "Nothing but an old man," she said. The policeman searched through the bureau. He opened the pine wardrobe and peered in. "How old would you say he was?" "I don't know." He sorted through her clothing. "Sixty? Seventy?" "I guess." He pulled out a blue cotton dress and threw it on the bed, tossed out petticoats and stockings, a tired black hat with a ragged veil. A flurry of underwear followed, men's and women's. "Where's the rest of the old man's gear?" "You're looking at it," she said. The policeman checked the shelf above the hanging rod. "He must have had some possessions." "Just what's there." The policeman wadded up the clothing and stuffed it back in the wardrobe. "And what way would a man with absolutely no possessions be affording a hotel room?" "He traveled light." The policeman thought of Moon's pale face, dripping river water. Was it surprise he had read there, peace, delight, amazement, terror? "Suicide's the unforgivable sin," he said, musing. The girl said nothing. "Flying in the face of God, it is." She picked up the blue dress and shook it out, hung it back in the wardrobe. "It's a worse sin than murder," he said. "Worse than fornication. You know what fornication is." "I got a pretty good idea." Sunlight seeped across the floor, lapping at the legs of the plain wooden table, the two straight-back chairs. It gleamed softly on the iron fireplace but left the tossed double bed in shadow. The policeman wheeled around. "Question," he said. "What's a pretty girl like you doing with a stew bum, and him old enough to be her granddad?" "Is there some kind of law against old men?" "Did he give you money?" "Sure. He was my honey man. Except when he got to drinking." "Drank, did he?" "Like a fish." She sat down on the bed and watched him. "He got sort of balmy sometimes," she said. "Kept reading in this book, this poetry." "So, your man was a poet." The girl shrugged.Destroying Jim Moon's tombstone proved more difficult than Caroline had imagined. A crowbar, a hatchet, and a carpenter's hammer all proved ineffectual. "You need real stonecutter's tools," Win said. To her credit, she had done some damage: marred the pages of the book a little and chipped off the points of the calla lilies. But at the rate she was going, total destruction was likely to take her a lifetime. Winslow sat on the porch steps, watching her work on the stone and whittling. "My father only ever sent me one letter," he said. "That's one too many, I'd say." "Came all the way from Alaska." "Win, do you have to do that?" Caroline hated for him to whittle a total waste of time, in her estimation. Win folded his bone-handled pocketknife and tucked it back in his pocket. "It said, "I have named you after a great American painter, and it is my fondest hope that you will live the free and unencumbered life of an artist."" Caroline stared at him. "Well, it is a work of art," he said, meaning the stone. "It is a monstrosity," she said, speaking slowly so as to leave no room for misunderstanding. "And the sooner it is rubble, the sooner we can get on with your life."The policeman sat down at the table and settled in, stretching his legs out and crossing them at the ankles. "Well, I'm content," he said. He laced his fingers behind his head. "I got all day." The girl started to pace. "I told you. I met him in a bar. We came back here." "This is his room, then." "He was letting me stay." The old man wasn't carrying any cash when they pulled him out of the water, just the key to this room, but that proved nothing. He probably stashed it first and then stepped off. Lost it, maybe, or he could have been robbed. Sure. The policeman considered. Some up-and-coming lushroller might be strolling down Broadway right this very minute with Jersey loot in his pocket. Either that or the girl had it, hidden here in the room. "Come clean, missy." "I didn't know him," she said. The policeman raised a cynical eyebrow. "He wasn't nothing to me." The policeman's eyes locked in on her. He had a certain way. A liar couldn't stand his gaze. "Oh, all right," she said. The girl crossed the room, produced a key from her bosom, and unlocked a dark green carpetbag she pulled out from under the bed. "He left this." She tossed a worn, leather-bound diary on the table. "He used to read it to me, pages and pages." "Why don't you read it to me, then." "I can't read." The policeman was annoyed. The man had been in the river for two or three days. He needed to be put under, quick, and the boys were getting impatient. This damned girl was making things harder than things had need to be. Besides which, it was murderous hot, a scorcher. "Girl, I don't believe a word you say." She gave him a weak, contemptuous smile. "Your beliefs ain't of interest to me." He picked up the book and examined it. A hundred pages or more in a slanted scrawl, interspersed with drawingslandscapes, portraits. He opened it near the beginning and started to read:April 22, 1862 Keokuk Dear Diary, The Casualties are coming in from Shiloh. They have turned the Estes House Hotel into a Union Hospital our Surgeondoes five Raw Dealrode into town on a big white horse. Colonel Deal had gold braid on his shoulders. Colonel Deal had a feather in his hat. He had long auburn hair and a trim mustache, and to young Jim Moon, new to manhood, he was a god. Jim Moon's father had tried to argue with his son. Jim Moon's mother, predictably, cried. But Moon had a boy's vision of smoke and leather, a beautiful, terrible dream, and he was young. He was in love, and nothing could have stopped him. "Wanting to see the elephant," his father had said, meaning Moon hoped to witness something extraordinary, a marvel. "Home place pretty tame these days, I guess." It was spring. The scent of water was in the air. Moon's mother sat in the sewing rocker by the window, a tangle of yarn forgotten in her lap. No, no. Light spilled over her shoulders. There was no sound but the clock on the mantel, the wind in the cottonwood trees. "Well, then, I reckon," the father had said. Now Moon gave the old man on the bed a drink from a battered tin pitcher. ""I am poured out like water."" "Psalms," Moon said. "That's right." The old man drank deeply. ""A dry and thirsty land."" His eyes were pearly with cataracts. Sweat glistened on his forehead. Beside the bed a jacket hung over a chair. A double row of tarnished brass buttons caught the last of the sun. "I know what you're thinking," the old man said. "Sir?" "Wanting to fight?" "Yes, sir, I am," Moon said. The old man coughed up phlegm the color of roofing tar and spit it into a rag. "You're just a boy." "I'm near nineteen," Moon told him. An obvious lie. The man smiled and closed his ghostly eyes. "Look around you, son." Moon scanned the ballroom. Beautiful women in pastel silk had waltzed there under the crystal chandeliers, their plump shoulders bare and white as cream. Moon heard their hoop skirts whispering over the floor. "What do you see?" In fact, Moon saw a makeshift hospital ward, beds filled with wounded men. He smelled the stench of death and heard the ceaseless drone of flies. The men, for the most part, were empty-eyed and stared off into nothing. Some were missing arms or legs, and these were the easy cases, it seemed to Moon. Others had wounds so subtle and interior the extent of the damage could not be ascertained. "See death?" Moon nodded. "Despair?" The old man sat up, leaned on one shaky elbow. "You see all that, and yet you're still wanting a transfer." Moon couldn't explain himself. "Better give her another think, boy." "I'd be awful grateful." The old man cocked his head coyly, peering around the film of the cataracts. "Truly," he said. Moon nodded. "Well, I am damned." Moon joined the Twenty-fourth Infantry, the "Iowa Temperance Regiment," which he described in his diary as made up of men "who touch not, taste not, handle not spirituous or Malt Liquor, Wine or Cider." He fought well but without conviction, pitying men he should have despised and excusing from his rifle sight those who charmed him in some physical detailthe set of the jaw, a bright bandannathose who, with some gesture perhaps, reminded him of his own humanity. Moon was green, with no lust for blood. But sometimes, when a fight was unexpected or the battle turned suddenly and Moon saw the men rush forward, himself among them, throwing their bodies heedlessly into the fray, he felt amazed. He hadn't known he would see that kind of courage, not from the farmboys and storekeepers he soldiered with and thought he knew, and certainly not from himself. To die for your country. Moon was astonished. To give your small, ordinary life for an ideal.April 26, 1863 Dear Diary, Camped. Mud to our knees. Seem like she's all Mud from Missouri on down. The Slough of Despond. Most of the boys have the Tennessee Two-Step he rides pretend to have a Cottonmouth which wasn't nothing more than a Whipsnake. I took him down a runnerthat give his Gait a sideways amble Hard Times Landing Dear Diary, Rains come last night Champion Hill Dear Diary, At 15 minutes of 8 guns commenced. Weather extremely hot. We come up nr Vicksburg Dear Diary, Pushing on. "God defend the Right and bring this unnatural war to a close by the success of our Cause the Salvation of the Union." Amen. Capt. says the people of the South are 100 years behind the North in Enterprise Christmas in the mud and the year turned. Spring again, summer. Moon fought on. In the fall, Lincoln was reelected over McClellan and the Peace Democrats. The boys in camp whooped and hollered. Winter again. And then, one chilly day in early spring, near a town that Moon could not have named, he and a boy called Alvin Cobb, caught up in a running skirmish, became separated from their unit and, without much discussion, decided not to try to rejoin the fighting. "Let's lay up in them woods," Moon said. It seemed like a good idea at the time. They turned north and lost themselves in a tangled grove that bordered a shallow river. "You reckon we're ever gonna win this war?" Cobb said, trudging through the brush. Moon shrugged. "They say we're winning, the boys." They came to a clearing and sat down to rest. Moon watched the river slip in and out of the shadows. Cobb opened his haversack. "She's supposed to be winding down by now." "Says who?" Cobb laid out a pouch of tobacco, a long-stemmed clay pipe with a carved bowl. He built a fire and boiled coffee, whistling while he worked. A fair-haired boy from Prairie City, Cobb was slow, but earnest and goodhearted. Moon couldn't help but like him. "Seem like she's dragging on," Cobb said. Moon studied Cobb's face: the freckled nose, the jug ears, the muddy, gray-green eyes, flat and expressionless. It was an innocent face, the kind that Moon had noted often seemed marked for death. Moon had seen whole regiments cut down in an afternoon, meadows where the grass was slick with blood, and it seemed to him that the tall, lanky kind, his kind, those who had grown wary and distant over time, were the ones who mostly survived. He watched Cobb and tried to puzzle it out, why some men died and others did not, and whether he himself would die, and, if not, how he could ever go home again. Moon was no scholar. Politics bored him. What he knew, he knew by intuition, by the feel and sound and smell of things. He carried his diary over his heart, where other boys carried a Bible, and wrote out his thoughts with a stubby yellow carpenter's pencil, using a straightedge to keep the lines from sinking on the right. He recorded the weather, his health and disposition, the birds he spotted warblers, swallows, tanagersand phonetic reproductions of their songs. On occasion, he soared, pouring out his heart in elaborate phrasings when some event had puzzled or angered or moved him, and sometimes he sketched in the margins, trying to capture the lay of the land or the twisted limbs of a burr oak, the curve of the mouth of the old brown man he had seen along the road, his amber eyes. He wrote down the sayings of men he met, recorded their stories. He rhapsodized on women he only imagined, casting them in various rolescompanion, wife, a sister he never had. "Well, we seen the elephant." Cobb held out the tobacco pouch, but Moon shook his head. "Tell true, that old boy ain't all he's bragged up to be." Cobb drank his coffee. "When she does end, I'm going out west." Moon nodded. "Sure." "I'm tired of soldiering," he said. Moon thought he was joking, but, glancing over, he saw that Cobb's brow was deeply furrowed with unaccustomed thought. "San Francisco," Cobb said. "Get me a store-bought suit of clothes and a gold-headed walking stick." He finished his coffee and stretched out on the ground. He pulled his cap down over his eyes, and within a minute or two he was sound asleep and breathing easy. Moon studied him. Tired of war. Cobb's round belly rose and fell. A peaceful snoring came from beneath his cap. Watching him, Moon longed for the same kind of ease. Tired. Moon started to figure. If he could walk just twenty miles a day, in two months or less he might be home, back in the clapboard house where he was born, the little bedroom with the plain pine walls and the slanted ceiling. Back with his mother, who baked him buttermilk biscuits and patched his jacket and traded off reading out loud with him from a book called Pilgrim's Progress. Back with the black-and-white dog he had and the fishing spot on the Cedar River, a steel-gray pool above Columbus Junction. The water there was shadow-laced, overhung with trees, still and timeless, and there, using a string and a crooked three-penny nail, Moon had hooked glossy, mottled bullheads the color of dark winter ice and skinned them out on the bank. Their fat, coiling guts turned the water the color of rusty iron, leaving Moon with the pearl-white fillets going golden over a fire. Moon remembered digging his toes into the cool mud of the riverbank, hungry and waiting for supper, running some scrap of language through his mind: poetry from one of his mother's little leather-bound books, Bunyan or Sir Walter Scott or maybe the Bible, some hymn he had heard filtering out of the white frame Baptist church. Quietly Moon stood up and gathered his gear. The sun hung low, but it was still possible, he believed, to cover two or three miles or more yet that day. He left the fire burning. He thought about leaving a note but decided against it. Unlike Moon, whose mother had taught him early from the McGuffey, Alvin Cobb probably couldn't read, and anyway he was the kind of boy who told everything he knew. Moon left him sleeping and walked away. He followed the river, angling northwest, first through a sparse cluster of loblolly pine, then into an open field where the ground was a muddy red clay. A high white plantation rose up in the distance, glowing, fretted with live oak trees, and Moon tried to match that beauty to the wretchedness of the slaves. He thought about the Negroes on the road, headed north like a strong brown river. A mile or so on, he came to a grove where a brown thrasher, hidden high in the trees, was singing for rain. Perhaps, Moon thought, he should camp. Perhaps he should turn around and go back. He thought about Alvin Cobb and hated him, despised the boyish eagerness that had been his, too, just a few years before. Cobb was tired, maybe, but he'd keep fighting. As for Moon, it was too many for him. Moon sat down and took out his diary. Lately he had begun to brace his own thoughts with lofty quotations, some copied from books and newspapers and some out of the talk around the fire. "I cannot believe that Providence has allowed this great Nation to flourish," he wrote out in one place, "only to see it destroyed Moon liked the way it rolledbut, copied out that way, it lost its force. To his knowledge, Moon had killed three menkilled in the sense that they were close and he had seen the bewilderment in their eyes: one who appeared suddenly in a woods; one, older, an officer who rushed him on the ridge; and one, a boy about fifteen years old who got in the line of fire. Unanticipated, all three, with no malice intended. Necessary, maybe. Still he mourned. Moon had forgotten their faces, never knew their names, remembered only the strange, twisted postures of their deaths. Cobb was foolish, still a boy, but he was a comrade in arms, and Moon felt some sort of duty to help him stay alive and get that walking stick. Then, of course, there was the Union. A slant of light cut through the trees. The sun would set in an hour. Cobb would wake and head on back to the war, and Moon would have to come in alone, finding his way through the dark. He looked north, south again. He was hungry and cold. They would call him a skulker, say he had played off, and, of course, he had. Already he missed the companionship of camp, the men around the fire, the boys he knew, the row of white canvas tents glowing with kerosene lamps, and the murmur of the horses tied along the picket line. To his dismay, Moon had become a soldier. Moon walked with the sun low on his right, following the river. An hour back, at least, if he wasn't lost. Probably he had already missed supper. And then, how to explain it. Cobb would have some story. Just got lost, sir, Moon could hear himself saying. A girl came out of the woods. She was tall, about Moon's age, and wore a ragged wine-colored dress, muddy at the hem. "Hey," she called out. "You. Stringbean." Moon was startled out of his reverie. "Where you headed for, soldier?" She came toward him, smiling. "Looking for me?" Moon was too tired to speak. "Ain't lost, are you?" Moon denied it. "No, ma'am. Tired is all." She smiled. "I got just the thing." Moon hesitated. She reached out and tugged on his ear, teasing. "You can trust me, captain." Moon followed her into a stand of pines. She sat down and patted the ground beside her. "Come to mama," she said. Moon glanced over his shoulder. "I'm headed on back to the war," he said. "It'll wait." She produced a bottle of bourbon. "That's the thing about wars. They're always there. Miss one, another'll come along." The girl wasn't dressed for the chilly evening. "You're cold," he said. "I can see the fuzz raised up on your arm." He sat down and put his coat around her. "Fuzz, fuzz, fuzzy." She liked the word. "What's your name?" "Puddin" and tane. Ask me again and I'll tell you the same." "Tell me." "You a Quaker?" "No." "Talk like one." "How you mean?" "I don't know. Kind of sad." The girl was dark and slender. Moon put his head in her lap and drank in the wild scent of her body. She swept back the fine, curly dark hair from his brow. "I have a magic elixir hid under my apron," she told him. "Is that a fact?" "Uh-huh." "Give me a taste." "Find it." Moon looked up and saw the frank expression in her eyes. "I'm in the Twenty-fourth," he said, "the Iowa Temperance Regiment." She kissed his mouth. "Course, I'm not actually with my unit right now." The girl lay back on the ground and her hair fell loose, spilled out like water. Moon raised himself on one elbow and stared down into her eyes. She toyed with the buttons on his coat. "Fighting for the coloreds?" "I don't know." Moon took her hand. "I only ever seen a couple or two before I joined up. And they was a long way off." "What are you fighting for, then?" Moon touched her face, ran his hand along the curve of her jaw. "Doing it just to be doing it, I guess." "Liar." She rose up and kissed him, brassy. "Got any money?" Her mouth held the smoky taste of the bourbon. "Nope." "Well, that's just my luck then, ain't it?" Moon didn't know what to say. "Boys," she said. "I could trade you something." This intrigued her. "What you got?" Moon thought for a minute. "Nothing," he said. The girl fished her hand into Moon's pocket. "Not even a little old two-bit piece?" Moon giggled. "I'm awful sorry," he said. She pretended to pout a little, then reached out and ruffled his hair. "Never mind, sweetheart. You ain't the worst I ever seen. Have a drink." Moon hesitated. Perhaps he knew it wouldn't take much. She kissed him again, and his heart began to float. "Take it easy now." She pulled him down between her knees, took a drink, and handed over the bottle. Moon took a sip, a swallow. Moon drank deep. "There you go," she said. The whiskey glowed behind his forehead. Moon closed his eyes, and the weight of the war slipped away. He broke into a smile. "I told you," she said. Moon felt light, so easy in his body he seemed to float up over the treetops, and from that vantage point he could see a patchwork of fields in the distance, gentle hills layered in pearl gray. Beyond them, a scatter of woods, the tall-grass prairie, the plains and the mountains, snowcapped, gleaming, giving way on the far side to a valley, incredibly green. Moon saw his way clear to the broad Pacific, which rolled in ancient rhythms, wave on wave. "What's that you got in them big blue eyes?" the girl said. "Tears?" Moon slept and dreamed of a long train, draped in black and winding slowly through the towns of mourning. A ghostly steam shrouded the wheels and their throbbing revolutions, and a special car bore a coffin, especially long. He woke alone. The sky was empty. There was still frost on the limbs of the trees. March or early April. The earth was bare, but, bending down, looking close along the banks of the river, Moon detected the first fine blades of grass.Copyright 2003 by Barbara Croft. Reprinted by permission of Houghton Mifflin Company.
Full Text Reviews
Appeared in Library Journal on 2003-04-15:
Croft's debut comes well recommended; not only did she win a Drue Heinz Literature Prize in 1998, but the novella on which this new work is based won a gold medal from the Pirate's Alley Faulkner Society in 2000. Central to this story is a Union Army veteran who attends the World's Colombian Exposition in 1893 and becomes rapidly disillusioned with the corruption that he sees despoiling the American dream. (c) Copyright 2010. Library Journals LLC, a wholly owned subsidiary of Media Source, Inc. No redistribution permitted.
Appeared in Publishers Weekly on 2003-07-14:
The technological promise of the new 20th century permeates this spare, lyrical first novel by veteran short story writer Croft (Necessary Fictions; Primary Colors and Other Stories). It opens on the eve of WWI, when 68-year-old Civil War vet Jim Moon "step[s] off" a ferry in the New York harbor and drowns. It's the job of a shifty cop to piece together Jim's life through his diary excerpts, and it is through this weaving of past and present that his story is told. Briefly settled down in Iowa with a wife and son after years of drifting, Jim reads about the 1893 Chicago World's Fair and its vision of a future industrial age in which "[a]ir ships would navigate the sky. Taxation would be minimal.... War would be abolished." Lured by the city "all of white," Moon abandons his home and begins living hand-to-mouth in the shadow of the fair. When the fair closes, Moon remains in Chicago, falling in with a mysterious troublemaker who alternately cons and befriends him, and pursuing a beautiful woman beyond his means. Though searching and idealistic, Moon is swept up in the poverty, labor strife and cronyism of the turn of the century, while in the novel's present, the cop and a girl who knew Moon experience a growing tenderness. Croft's novel is as precise and posed as an oil portrait: lovely descriptions abound, but abbreviated subplots involving Moon's abandoned wife and grown son fail to resonate with the larger story. This may stem from the story's pedigree: it grew from a short story in Primary Colors to an award-winning novella, then this lovely but slightly uneven novel. Agent, Elisabeth Weed. (Aug.) (c) Copyright PWxyz, LLC. All rights reserved
Reviews
Review Quotes
"Moon is one of those mystical . . . characters whose journey is meant to trace the contours of American history . . . [H]ypnotizing . . ." --Daniel Fierman
"Moon is one of those mystical . . . characters whose journey is meant to trace the contours of American history . . . [H]ypnotizing . . ." --Daniel Fierman Entertainment Weekly
This item was reviewed in:
Kirkus Reviews,
Library Journal, April 2003
Publishers Weekly, July 2003
Booklist, August 2003
Library Journal, August 2003
To find out how to look for other reviews, please see our guides to finding book reviews in the Sciences or Social Sciences and Humanities.
Summaries
Main Description
A stunning, cinematic debut novel set at the 1893 Chicago World's Fair, Moon's Crossing explores a unique time in American history, when the romantic heritage of the nineteenth century merged with the industrial temperament of the modern age. Jim Moon, an idealistic Union Army veteran, leaves his young wife and son to visit the World's Columbian Exposition, which has attracted America's greatest artists and thinkers as well as its drifters and schemers. Nick, a fast-talking con man, takes Moon to Pullman Town, a model city south of Chicago that is the site of the complex labor strike of 1894. Moon comes to see that the bright future the fair promised is compromised by greed. Unable to recapture his early vision of America, he takes his own life, and in so doing generates a surprising love story between a common young woman and a corrupt policeman as well as a major upheaval in the life of his neglected son. Kaleidoscopic and fast-paced, Moon's Crossing draws on such sources as the traditional tall tale to present a unique narrative style. Moon's adventures are completely American, and the legacy he leaves is, ironically, more significant than his failed life would have foretold.

This information is provided by a service that aggregates data from review sources and other sources that are often consulted by libraries, and readers. The University does not edit this information and merely includes it as a convenience for users. It does not warrant that reviews are accurate. As with any review users should approach reviews critically and where deemed necessary should consult multiple review sources. Any concerns or questions about particular reviews should be directed to the reviewer and/or publisher.

  link to old catalogue

Report a problem