Shoot The Moon

by Christopher Hartley
Thursday Jul 1, 2004
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This was my first exposure to Letts’ work -- whose first novel, "Where the Heart Is," was a best selling Oprah Book Club selection -- which is probably a good thing. Eager fans may be a bit let down that it doesn’t quite live up to the book jacket claim of being "a hypnotic tale filled with suspense and emotional truth." But if you’re headed to the beach, pool, or airport (as I was), "Shoot the Moon" is a light, guilty pleasure.

Filled with quirky characters that fall just shy of ardent stereotype, the story nonetheless moves along at a quick pace (I finished nearly half the book in the air between Denver and San Diego). Mark Albright is an arrogant, hot shot Beverly Hills veterinarian-to-the-stars who suddenly discovers at age 30 that he was adopted. Armed with a copy of his newly discovered adoption papers and birth certificate, off he flies to tiny little DeClare, Oklahoma, to find his birth mother. As the saying goes, "the plot thickens" from here on out.

Albright’s arrival instantly turns the town upside when he discovers that his mother was murdered when he was just an infant and he was presumed drowned when his pajamas were found by the river bank. As the national media begins to descend on the town to report on the miraculous reappearance of little Nicky Jack, Albright quickly turns his attention to determining who his father was and whether or not that man might also be his mother’s murderer.

Letts does get many aspects of small town life right, such as when she vividly describes how fresh gossip blankets the town at warp speed: "The story, on the loose now, raced through the community like an unbridled child. Rumors climbed over backyard fences, skipped from street to street, romped down the aisles of Wal-Mart, tumbled through the Laundromat and cart wheeled through the park." But the book is overpopulated with unnecessarily eccentric characters (the openly gay retired fireman, who whips up culinary disasters like pumpkin squid bisque), all of whom know something about the murder that they’ve been harboring for decades. It’s hard to imagine that a small town could keep such things secret for thirty years, all of which Albright manages to unravel in just a few days.

Suffice it to say that the plot is fairly transparent and like any good mystery story, there are lots of false leads to throw you off the scent of both the father and the killer (I won’t spoil whether or not they are the same person). An added plot device introduces the high school diary entries of Albright’s mother, which are interspersed between chapters. They add little to the narrative, nor do they seem to offer much insight into the mother’s character, and I wanted to skip over them.

Despite some heavy-handed preaching against adoption, Albright’s character becomes both more interesting and likable as the story progresses. This is especially true when he finds himself strangely attracted to his pregnant, free-spirited cousin, Ivy. All in all, "Shoot the Moon" spins an entertaining yarn and will likely be as indispensable poolside as a high-SPF sunscreen.

by Billie Letts

Warner Books, 333 pages, $24.00. Also available as an Audio Book (cassette or CD) and in Large Print Edition.

Christopher Hartley is a native of Southern California, but fled to the warm embrace of Boston several years ago. When not working in higher education or reviewing for EDGE, he stays active with Boston’s local gay swim team, Liquid Assets.


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