cover image The Hunger Moon

The Hunger Moon

Suzanne Matson. W. W. Norton & Company, $23 (256pp) ISBN 978-0-393-04099-9

A ""hunger moon""--as we learn near the end of this realistic but delicately lyrical first novel by poet (Durable Goods and Sea Level) Matson--refers to the moon of February. Deep winter is indeed the apt metaphysical setting for this intricate study of the interrelated lives of three modern women of different ages and backgrounds. Waitress Renata Rivera, the central character, leaves her boyfriend, loving but troubled bartender Bryan Harmon, without telling him she is pregnant, and drives cross-country to Boston with baby Charlie. Down the hallway from Renata in her Brookline apartment building lives Eleanor MacGregor, a wealthy elderly widow who's beginning a new, pared-down solo life in a small apartment, where she keeps memories of her old life packed away in boxes. Renata and Eleanor are brought together by anorexic dance student June, whom Eleanor hires for help with odd jobs and Renata for baby-sitting. June tries to muster up courage for a career as a dancer despite her father's pressure to study something more practical. While Matson sticks to a fairly straightforward story line, her gifts for nuance and vivid detail emerge in the complexities and richness of each woman's sensibility. Each of the main characters has had man trouble, but Matson subtly shows how, with time, space and attentive friendship, a woman's heart can heal enough to open to a man again. The story ends in May under the promising light of the ""milk moon,"" rounding out a narrative cycle that Matson, as a sort of affable Diana (goddess of the hunt, childbirth and the moon), creates from the timeless theme of the heart as a lonely hunter. Literary Guild selection; author tour. (July)