Saint John, New Brunswick native Jerrod Edson has published his fifth novel, The Moon is Real (2016, Urban Farmhouse press) the manuscript of which won the Writer’s Federation of New Brunswick’s David Adams Richards Prize in 2013. A novel of urban restlessness that is set in Saint John concerns the lives of four main characters, who appear to be settling for the status quo of everyday life. There is Prin, the sex trade worker who lives only for her daughter Daisy, Charlie, the Canada Post employee that drinks and drives as he delivers mail in the tony neighbourhoods of Quispamsis and Rothsay, Eddie Smythe, the east coast drug contact for the Montreal mob, and Jeremy Wiggins, the son of a funeral home director.
The book’s cover is reminiscent of the 1940’s or 50’s style of cover and it made me think that there might be a film (or book) noir hiding within. Saint John, often shrouded in fog and with all its hills and crazy street layout make a perfect setting for this story of likeable losers and misfits. The book opens with an obituary for the druggie Eddie, revealing a little of what we can expect from the next 140 pages: seriousness but with some lighter moments as well. The Moon is Real does not disappoint in either of these areas. The layout of the book takes us forward in time (to Eddie’s wake) then back to how Eddie ended up in the Wiggins Funeral Home in the first place, with the Ukrainian hitmen Ivan and Dimitri standing over the coffin. Mr. Edson has chosen to give us very little of each character’s backstory: we don’t know how Prin came to be in the sex trade, how Eddie got connected with the Montreal mob (or why he owes them $12,000), or the reason Charlie drinks on the job. This keeps the plot to the fore and firmly rooted in the present. Actually, other than Eddie’s uncle Walter, few of the characters lament their present situation or regret their past and this serves to maintain a steady drive as the plot advances to the climax.
The reality trope appears throughout The Moon is Real. Prin, after being raped by a client, tells herself that “it wasn’t real and you must say it again and again and again. IT DID NOT HAPPEN!” Walter, upon hearing his dead sister Iris’ voice come from a photograph: “Is this happening? This isn’t happening. Is it? It isn’t. It’s not you, not really. Is it?” Charlie, who finds himself embroiled in a scheme to help Eddie outwit his killers, thinks to himself: “Was it even real”? He cannot believe Eddie, who he thinks as a bit of a moron, would even be a potential target for the Montreal mob. But it is real, and we are taken along as the plot follows the Ivan the solemn, world-weary hitman and Dimitri, his over-anxious partner, Detective Ladd of the Saint John police and the three young men as they try to keep a step ahead of the mob.
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To save Eddie from certain death, they come up with a scheme real enough to get the hitmen off Eddie’s trail for good. It would appear to have initial success, but like with any plan, there are loose ends, which turn out to have consequences for both the hunted and the hunter.
Later, while Charlie and Prin leave the funeral home to try and work out their renewed hopes for a life together, Ivan and Dimitri are pursued by the police as they try to make their way back to Montreal. Their vehicle is pulled over and one policeman is shot at point-blank range. His partner manages to seriously wound Dimitri and Ivan seeks shelter and help for his partner on a farmhouse off the highway. The climax of the book cleverly juxtapositions Charlie and Prin’s blossoming renewal of love with Ivan and Dmitri’s end-of-life drama unfolding in a rural farmhouse just north of Saint John.
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The Moon is Real is a big story contained in a small 140-page book. It is by turns humorous and melancholy, dark and bright, warm and cold (such as the Brunswick Square bathroom stall that serves as Prin’s cocoon to morph into her hooker garb). Charlie and Prin are stable in their own way, using love as their motivating strength to keep them head and shoulders above the general morass of life in a big city.
It has been eight years since Mr. Edson’s last book, and almost five years since the manuscript for The Moon is Real won the David Adams Richards Prize. It would appear that he has spent many an hour honing the story down to the bare bones, adding a little flesh, sinew and muscle in all the right places to make this a very poignant story of love and loss in the unforgiving Port City.
The Moon is Real by Jerrod Edson
Urban Farmhouse Press
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