Hallberg plants seeds of doubt about the Apollo moon landings in this social satire about a fallen adman’s learning an astronaut hero, his deceased baseball teammate from high school, might have held a history-changing secret.
Hallberg’s hefty narrative covers four minutely detailed days in the life of Tom “Trif” Hammock, a down-on-his-luck New Yorker now in a disintegrating marriage to abrasive TV journalist Kate Miller. Hammock is flailing in his new career in cutthroat Manhattan real estate. His crucial assignment: Broker a hot property, the apartment of Lt. Col. Elijah “Boon” Juster, a recently deceased athlete and hedge fund spokesman—and also one of the last Apollo astronauts, famed for hitting a baseball on the lunar surface. Juster attended school with Hammock and played alongside him in a legendary 1971 student baseball game, described in lengthy flashbacks, with participants who, 40 years later, recur in the present-day narrative. As Tom prepares Boon’s puzzling estate, he finds a secret stash of conspiracy material. Tom’s flirtatious co-worker Cerise keeps insinuating that the NASA moon landings were, in fact, staged hoaxes, and Boon was apparently about to reveal this before his fatal heart attack. Meanwhile, Kate won’t let up on Tom—not so much to give him hope about their relationship but more so to enhance her scandalous news report on Boon, who she suspects was party to high-level Wall Street chicanery. A typical genre novelist might be tempted to turn the search for Boon’s missing hard drive into Dan Brown–esque chases and gunfights. But not Hallberg, who pitches a comedy of manners, with a small cast of schemers in just a few locations—readers might imagine this as a stage play or a modest indie film—ruminating on love, loss, prestige, greed, baseball (including the game’s secret origins) and the struck-out American dream. Floating in a low-gravity, mildly tragicomic narrative of abandoned childhood innocence and nostalgia, the message is that in a Great Recession USA of middle-class downsizings, lapsed idols, lying presidents and cheating banks, the moon landing remains one thing Americans can point to with pride—so why not suspect it of being just another instance of government-military–corporate-media fakery? Though the plot includes scattered citations and websites for moon-landing skeptics, conspiracy obsessives looking for a direct j’accuse may be frustrated by the book’s mordant, Stendahl-like literary approach.
An urbane think-piece of a novel on alleged moon-landing—and baseball and business and marriage—lies, not to be mistaken for a sci-fi thriller.