On the day she leaves Seattle for Wrangell, Alaska — site of a terrible tragedy that occurred years before — Jenna Rosen has snapped. It’s not enough that it’s two years to the day since her son Bobby drowned; she must also be stuck at a party with associates she despises, putting on a happy face while attendees whisper about the Rosens as her husband, Robert, schmoozes and acts like she’s insane for not being “over it.”
It’s also that time has marched forward for everyone but Jenna, pushing them all toward a new life — a new world — when her own resolved issues stay firmly on the surface, like raw wounds. Though everyone believed Bobby drowned in an accident on Thunder Bay, his body was never recovered — and Jenna is unable to find any peace or closure over his passing. To her, her 6-year-old son has still vanished. And something pulls her back to Alaska, setting off a chain of events and bringing to light pieces of native folklore she never thought possible.
Garth Stein’s Raven Stole The Moon is a contemporary novel set against an interesting backdrop: the beliefs and ancient folklore of the Tlingit people. As Jenna traipses through Wrangell and meets an interesting cast of characters — including Oscar, a dog who suddenly follows her everywhere, and Eddie, a man who befriends and shelters her, no questions asked — we begin to learn of a supernatural phenomenon which is intriguing and spooky. What did happen to Bobby?
I’m one of the few people in the world who has not read Stein’s The Art Of Racing In The Rain, so his writing style was completely new to me. Characterized by short sentences, his prose comes out in a staccato-like rhythm that took a little getting used to. It certainly wasn’t bad, but I wasn’t accustomed to getting the stream-of-consciousness-like details the author shared with us. Told in third person but focused primarily on Jenna and her viewpoint, the book hammered out important tidbits in a style pretty distinct to Stein.
After I hit roughly the 60-page mark, I was hooked — completely drawn into the tale and desperate to find out what happened to Bobby. Stein gives us just enough detail to sustain the mystery without dragging it all out too long, frustrating readers who must go hundreds of pages without new information. As we learned more and more about certain spirits known to inhabit Alaska and meet David Livingstone, a native shaman, I could feel goosebumps erupt on my skin.
I didn’t find the book to be the “horror” story some claim, but nor is it a tepid tale of family or forgiveness. It’s something in between. Relying plenty on religious and supernatural elements and requiring the reader to suspend disbelief for a sizeable chunk of the story, Raven Stole The Moon was a riveting novel — and even though I didn’t particularly like Jenna or Robert, I was unable to put the book down. It’s pretty rare that I’m so apathetic to two of the main characters and still enjoy the novel. Why? Because though I didn’t feel for them, I felt with them — and I knew that, in the wake of their son’s death, how could I judge them? I couldn’t. And didn’t. I just read their story through as unbiased a lens as I could.
Originally published in 1998, the book maintains a sort of innocence before the dawn of Google searches and iPhones. As Jenna disappears from the lush, dull world she inhabits in Washington, we’re able to remember how much easier it was to “go off the grid” before we were all accessible 24/7 via devices we keep in our pockets and palms. Stein notes in the afterword that he could have changed the timeframe and updated these references but chose not to, and I agree with the decision to keep the book firmly rooted in the late 1990s. It made me feel — dare I say it? — nostalgic.
Fans of contemporary fiction with a heavy mysterious, supernatural element will find plenty to enjoy here, and probably much for discussion. Though I was happy with the book’s resolution for the most part, those closing pages? Makes me wonder . . .
4 out of 5!