BEHIND THE MOON by Madison Smartt Bell


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From Bell (The Color of Night, 2011, etc.), a novel about a young woman finding her way back aboveground both literally and metaphorically after a misadventure beneath the surface of things.

Julie ditches school for an overnight motorcycle trip into the badlands with her best friend, a potential love named Jamal, and two untrustworthy toughs. These last two turn out to be wannabe pornographers who have dosed her water with what appears to be LSD, and they chase Julie and Jamal up into the carious moonscape of cliffs and rocks, many of which have extensive graffiti tags ranging from contemporary spray paint to ancient Native American drawings. In her impaired state, Julie tumbles into a narrow and deep cave shaft, and it's almost two days before Jamal can bring help. After she's extricated, the "Cave Girl" spends weeks in a coma, with Jamal at her side—and with one of their assailants lurking menacingly, threatening to silence both of them. Meanwhile, Marissa, who gave her infant daughter up for adoption 17 years earlier, has suffered a shock of her own—a priest she worked with and loved dies suddenly of a heart attack. In a susceptible state, Marissa leaves her job and, heeding a mysterious impulse, goes looking for the daughter she abandoned. She quickly finds her in the comatose Cave Girl. In intercut chapters, Julie has embarked on a kind of vision quest inspired by the cave art and the landscape. Marissa and Jamal join forces, and eventually—with the help of a Native American enforcer/bounty hunter/shaman named Ultimo—they head both outward into the badlands and inward into a hallucinatory alternate reality to try to coax Julie back to ordinary reality and those who care about her.

Bell is a gifted veteran, and though the more realistic half of this novel is more compelling and affecting than the mystic fever dream, the whole is lyrical, ambitious, and well worth reading.

Pub Date: May 15th, 2017
ISBN: 978-0-87286-744-4
Page count: 280pp
Publisher: City Lights
Review Posted Online:
Kirkus Reviews Issue: April 1st, 2017


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