Mon November 27, 2006
Alabama Moon, while sold as a novel for teenagers, is a good read, and although I have not been a teenage boy for a very long while, I read it with pleasure.
By Don Noble
The story line of Alabama Moon is really quite straightforward. Moon Blake, a ten-year-old boy, lives in the woods near Gainesville, Alabama, not far from Livingston, with his father. Moon's mother has died and Moon's father is a Vietnam War veteran, probably suffering from Post-Traumatic Stress Syndrome. Pap hates and distrusts the government and anything connected to the government. Pap is also a survivalist. He is not a member of any militia, but he has a Ruby Ridge mentality and fears the government may come at any time and eliminate him with extreme prejudice.
Pap and Moon live in a shelter, partly below ground, and, to avoid detection, make no obvious trails to and from their home. The two hunt, fish, trap, grow food, harvest edible vegetation along with fruit, nuts, and berries, and even make their own clothes from skins.
Unhappily, Pap breaks his leg and distrusts civilization so much that he will not allow Moon to go for help. Pap, who believes in reincarnation and may return as a coon, fish, Eskimo, or something else, he knows not what, dies, painfully and unnecessarily, willful all the way to stupid, and leaves his son alone in the woods and, in the natural course of things, at the mercy of Alabama social services.
Pap has told his ten-year-old boy to get to Alaska, where he will find others of his kind, that is to say "government haters," but Moon is picked up and after a short stay in jail sent to a fictional boys home, called here Pinson, in Tuscaloosa. There Moon astounds the other boys by absolutely loving the food, the best he's ever eaten.
But Moon, along with two buddies, escapes and gets back to the woods, the Talladega National Forest, where, for a while, he really does rather well. Moon fashions a spear and kills fish. He kill and cooks a black snake stuffed with "a paste made from white oak acorns, cattail roots and thistle." The boys wash these delicacies down with fresh water of course, but also pine needle or sassafras tea. Moon cooks a snapping turtle and even makes a bow and arrow and kills a deer.
Moon is a gifted outdoorsman but is only semi-feral. Pap taught him to read and write better than one might expect. As Moon experiences social workers and policemen, some decent, some vile, especially Constable Sanders of Livingston, who is nearly a stereotype of the vicious, violent Southern rural lawman, he observes "civilization " and learns steadily, and part of what he learns is that not everything Pap had told him was true. More touching for the reader is that Moon, who had never known a boy his age before, really enjoys having a friend.
This manuscript has a fascinating history. Watt Key, a young writer, attended Birmingham-Southern College, never studying literature or writing. He runs a computer consulting company in Mobile. Key is, however, a descendent of Francis Scott Key, author of the national anthem, and therefore a collateral descendent of F. Scott Fitzgerald. In his spare time, Key has written ten novels, of which Alabama Moon is the ninth. Farrar Straus Giroux has published Alabama Moon and has also bought novels number six and ten, as they can be categorized, like this one, as "young adult" novels.
Key insists that he doesn't aim his books at a particular audience. He just tells the story he is moved to tell in the voice that seems appropriate. This was also true, of course, of Huckleberry Finn, by Mark Twain, and although Moon is younger than Huck, the two books, with their honest, na?ve, engaging narrators, have a lot in common. Alabama Moon, while sold as a novel for teenagers, is a good read, and although I have not been a teenage boy for a very long while, I read it with pleasure.