When Michael Chabon was eleven years old, he decided that the world was a broken place. “When my parents separated and divorced, it completely upended everything that I thought I knew,” Chabon said recently, on the phone from his home, in Berkeley, California. “After that happened, not only did I see that my world was broken but, in fact, that brokenness was everywhere in one way or another. It really affected my way of seeing everything thereafter.”
It also prompted him to find refuge in made-up places. “Scale models try to approximate a whole world, a world that doesn’t have a crack,” Chabon explained, mentioning Wes Anderson’s meticulously constructed cinematic worlds. “But, of course, the more accurate your scale model is, the more likely it is to show the cracks. The element of creating scale models, which is pretty grounded in ‘Moonglow,’ is present in nearly all of my books.”
“Moonglow,” which comes out this week, is Chabon’s “first faux-memoir novel,” as he put it. The book takes place in 1989. The narrator’s grandfather is on his deathbed, and, with his inhibitions loosed by pain medication, he begins to recount his life’s adventures, from his childhood in Philadelphia to his experience as a soldier during the invasion of Germany, his career at nasa in Cape Canaveral, his imprisonment in New York, his wife’s commitment to an insane asylum, and, finally, their old age in Florida and in Oakland, where he lies dying, speaking with his grandson. In the chronicle of this grandly lived life, shot through with digressions on war and love and ruminations on literature and rocketry, Chabon renders an entire era within a single deathbed confession—a scale model of life after the Second World War.