Moon Palace is about a young man who is orphaned at a young age. Throughout the novel, Marco Stanley Fogg, tries to find himself in the world. The events largely take place in the late 60’s early 70’s, but as the narrative bounces around the story expands to the early and mid 1900’s. Much of the early novel is spent building Fogg up to be an unreliable narrator, so it’s hard to say what happens and doesn’t happen in this novel. If you believe, Fogg, then you buy into the entire convoluted story involving Thomas Effing and Solomon Barber. If you don’t, you begin to doubt everything that Fogg has said.
The stories of Effing, Barber, and Fogg all bear some similar resemblances. All of the men go through periods of transition physically where their bodies define them. Fogg becomes disastrously skinny, his body morphing into something skeletal and gaunt. Effing is trapped in his body by the loss of his legs and sight. Barber, has the opposite problem of Fogg and has ballooned to 350 pounds. These changes in appearance end up defining the men and their relationships with those around them. This further plays into the moon motif; however, it might be seen as a little heavy handed.
Another thing the men share in common is that they are all on their own near their early twenties. Effing’s father dies while he’s young. Barber’s father disappears before he’s born. And for Fogg, he has no idea who his father is.
In the end, no matter what you believe, this is all Fogg’s story. For me, I believe he’s invented the entire thing or embelished events to provide a greater context for his own life. All of the men’s stories are too similar to be original, and while Auster asks us to push coincidence to the side and believe that things happen for a reason, he also contradicts this request with lines such as, “never take anything for granted. Especially when you’re dealing with a person like me,” spoken by Thomas Effing.
The entire relationship between Effing and Fogg is so full of lies and half truths that it permeates everything. That said, Auster’s writing is compelling. It reads fast. The characters are memorable. The only downside of that is the sparseness of setting and descriptions of what characters are feeling. Auster glides over descriptions choosing to narrate page after page in a way that tells the reader what’s happened but doesn’t show it. Perhaps, if he choose to show more the book would have stretched well beyond 300 pages.
Overall, this is an interesting novel. I almost want to page through it again, because it’s hard to tell if there is a lot of depth to it, or whether the number of thin narratives overlapping each gives the illusion of complexity.