cover image Behind the Moon

Behind the Moon

Madison Smart Bell. City Lights, $21.95 (280p) ISBN 978-0-87286-736-9

In Bell’s latest novel, a girl named Julie, fleeing from a violent sexual encounter in the desert, tumbles into a cave and falls into a fever dream inspired by ancient drawings on the cave walls. The telling of what happens next is shared among the characters. Jamal, the immigrant boy who feels responsible, leads the authorities to Julie’s body, then watches over her like a hawk lest the violent Marko, Julie’s nemesis, gets too close. Julie lies unresponsive in a hospital bed, somewhere “behind the moon,” but the reader participates in her hallucinatory journey, experiencing her turning into a bear, befriending a hawk, walking among the ancients, and becoming her own mother. In the real world, Julie’s birth mother, Marissa, on a spiritual journey of her own, begins searching for Julie, forging an alliance with a native shaman named Ultimo. The sections of the book grounded in reality are riveting, drawing the reader swiftly through the story, the author giving no assurance that any of the characters will live to see the last page. Julie’s journey through the spirit world is more difficult to follow, alluring but threatening to blur together. Nonetheless, it doesn’t diminish this powerful, mind-bending work. (May)