Friday, June 24, 2011

FFB: The Man Who Fell in Love with the Moon

The Man Who Fell in Love with the Moon (1991) by Tom Spanbauer

"It was the human-being hand reaching out the touch that feels so good you hurt for all the times you never felt it."

The rainbow flags have been unfurled and are flapping madly in the Windy City. There's a heavy smell of tanning oil and hair gel in the air, too many lean muscled men are wearing tank tops, I hear an increase in Lady Gaga, Kelly Clarkson and Scissor Sisters music around the old 'hood. It can only mean one thing - the Gay Pride Parade is a-coming to Boys' Town. As my nod to our annual summer bacchanalia in the streets of Chicago's north side I have chosen a book that has absolutely nothing to do with crime or the supernatural. In fact, if I had to slap a label on it I would call it my favorite western.  But I'm not gonna slap nothin' on The Man Who Fell in Love with the Moon. (Yeah, yeah a double negative = a positive. Tough. I'm adopting a character voice for this piece. Live with it.)  It's a book that defies categories and labels even if it features cowboys and Indians and prostitutes and man-on-man action in the old American west.

I will never do this book justice if I start in on a plot synopsis. It's too dense. Too rich. It's loaded with wisdom and humor and suffering and pain.  All the good stuff in Life.  Oh yeah, and there's a whole lot of sex talk and sex scenes. And of course a mess of raunchy words,  crude references to the male and female anatomy,every four letter word you can think of and couple with a lot more than four letters. If that's a big turn-off then I feel something awful sorry for you. You're just gonna miss out on something truly different. Plus you will never learn the secret of Moves Moves. (I'm not giving it away here. Read the book.)

I could go all analogy crazy like I usually do and come up with nutty stuff like this is The Adventures of Augie March reinterpreted by Karl May (if Karl May were gay). Or imagine Deadwood if it had been written by Armistead Maupin. Or how about the first pansexual Bildungsroman set in the wild west? But I won't. And yet I did. But it was the part of me that's not me that did it. So that's all right. Let's talk about that concept of me and not me that is so eloquently put forth in the telling of this tale.

The story is told through the eyes of Out-In-The-Shed, a young half tybo (that's white to all you non-Indians), half Shoshone or half Bannock or half something. He really can't remember. He's stuck in two worlds and so are most of the people he meets. Forget that most of the people who are taking care of him and educating him about Life are white people. They aren't tybo at all. Just like Shed is not Indian and not tybo, but something in between. He refers to "the part of me I like to call the part not me" throughout the book. In every coming of age story there is the struggle with identity.  Shed has more than his fair share of those troubles.

He is taken in by Ida Richilieu who runs the whorehouse in the old Indian Head Hotel and she puts him to work immediately. Shed is a berdache and he's kind of a specialty of the house. He only takes on male clients who like a little taste of the exotic. Dellwood Barker is one of those clients.

Dellwood tells Shed that berdache is also an Indian word (Bannock or Shoshone or something else, maybe) for "holy man." He's kind of Shed's tutor in Life teaching him a whole lot of interesting words and how to spell them and a whole lot about sex and telling stories. He's a philosopher. But let him speak for himself:
Smoke and wind and fire are all things you can feel but can't touch. Memories and dreams are like that too. They're what this world is made up of. There's really only a very short time that we get hair and teeth and put on red cloth and have bones and skin and look out eyes. Not for long. Some folks longer than others. If you're lucky, you'll get to be the one who tells the story: how the eyes have seen, the hair has blown, the caress the skin has felt, how the bones have ached. What the human heart is like. How the devil called and we did not answer. How we answered.
Tom Spanbauer (photo by Jerry Bauer ©1991)
This is a book that is practically screaming, "Read me aloud!" Every sentence is a kind of microcosm. Shed's voice is so authentic, so original that the words want to be given true voice. What difference whose voice? Your voice is just as good as his. The words are the key. And since I can't read all my favorite passages to you via this blog I'll do the next best thing. You read them aloud yourself.

That's how the devil is: how he is looking to you isn't how he is. Your eyes see one thing while your heart is seeing another.

What you were doing, though, was a telling a story. [...] Good fucking is bartering, wrestling, swapping tales back and forth and telling lies 'til you get to the truth.
Some of what I learned, if you want to say out loud, there's words for, some not. Most of what I learned though, I'm still thinking about -- probably always will.
There's only so much pain you can feel before you start forgetting. Pretty soon pain is your mother. Lost is your mother. Pain and lost is your home. You got to know who you are and why you live before you can find your way home.
"Most folks are damned fools," Dellwood said, "and have no idea they're making themselves up. But you're different, Shed. You live with the knowledge and understanding that who you are is a story you've made up to keep the moon away.  And since you know what it's like to live without a story, you've made yourself an expert on stories and what stories do."

Telling stories. That's really what this book is about. Shed even reminds us that sex when done right is really nothing more than two people telling each other their most intimate story. "The best stories,"  Dellwood is always telling Shed, "are the true stories." Just as the best people to talk to and listen to are the people who tell you their stories. When you get right down to it blogging is nothing more than telling stories. Even when you're writing about stories - telling the story of the story - you haven't escaped it. It's all part of the human being essence. The way we connect. The way we live.

The Man Who Fell in Love with the Moon is the best kind of story. A true story.


  1. As always, such a lovely review. And how true the idea is-true stories are the best ones.

  2. Thanks, Patti. Very kind of you to say so. For a while I thought there wouldn't be single comment today.

  3. "When you get right down to it blogging is nothing more than telling stories." You are so right, John. Blogging is, in many ways, more than what we at first had anticipated, I think.
    At least, what I had anticipated it would be. :)

    I must say John, this book (great review, by the way) sounds intriguing but a bit intimidating. We'll have to wait and see.

    I do love your enthusiasm for it. Book enthusiasm is half the battle.

  4. When I saw the title, it reminded me of THE MOON'S WIFE by A. A. Attanasio. But, of course, the description certainly puts me more in mind of "The Toughest Indian in the World" by Sherman Alexie.

    Well, now...stories that tell the truth are the best ones. True stories often don't even rate in that compass.

  5. That's what I intended in my final sentence, Todd. And that's how I interpreted the word "true" in the quote. Honest, forthright, not necessarily true as in "real-life."

  6. Call me a hairsplitter. But it's a crucial difference. I do endorse the sentiment, as you see.