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by Maryanne Stahl
New American Library , 2002
Review by Su Terry on Aug 12th 2002

Forgive the Moon

            Every year I select one book that I designate as the best book that I read that year. This year that book will be Forgive the Moon by Maryanne Stahl. This book has touched me and moved me in ways, few books ever do. It made me laugh and cry and ponder the direction of my own life. I read a lot of books, personally and professionally, this level of praise is rare, but a book like this is rare.

Forgive the Moon is set at the Laughing Gull Cottages, a beachside resort in Montauk, Long Island, NY. The Sinclair family clan has gathered for its annual week at the beach. This year, however, a few family members are conspicuously missing. Barbara Sinclair, the former matriarch, was killed in a car crash one week after last year’s vacation. The impact of her absence on the vacation is a concern for everyone this year. Isabella Kincaid, Barbara’s granddaughter, is a college freshman in Boston and has opted to take an internship in hopes of gaining a senior intern’s heart. While Isabella’s absence is not unexpected, the absence of her father, Keith Kincaid, is highly suspicious. No one is more aware of his absence than his wife, Amanda Kincaid, Barbara’s eldest child and Isabella’s mom, who has been placed in the hot seat to explain why he is not present, but how can she tell her children and her family that Keith has asked to use the week as a trial separation? Or that he has quit his prestigious job at the insurance company to go into business with a much younger single woman? Or that she may be pregnant and history may be repeating itself just like when he began to pull away from her in college? Or, that she finds the almost divorced doctor-musician to be too sexy to keep her hands off of? Amanda has a lot of explaining to do not only to her family, but also to herself, if only her extended family will give her the time and space to think about the answers.

What makes this novel so extraordinary is its ordinariness. The characters are real, their lifestyles are real, and their dilemmas are also very real. These are not millionaire jetsetters. Their crises are not earth shattering or life threatening. In fact, the issues at hand, a death of a parent, a collapsing marriage, an untimely pregnancy, and sexual temptations are just the fodder of daily life. Amanda just needs the time and space to make sense of it all out. As a product of her era, Amanda married because she got pregnant, gave up her hopes of a career as a musician to care for her family, and now may have gotten pregnant to “save the marriage”. Unfortunately, she is not sure she wants to save her marriage, or be pregnant again at forty, or if her husband does leave her, if she can support herself and her family. Michael Burns is also a man of his era who is going through his own period of searching. He is a well-respected doctor, but he finds greater pleasure as an amateur musician and jeweler. He is all but divorced, all that is left is the financial package, but that might include the loss of his beloved beach house to his soon-to-be ex-wife. He is lonely for a woman’s touch and Amanda is everything his wife was not. Barbara, the dear departed, but not gone mother is a major presence in this story. Barbara developed schizophrenia, after the birth of Lizzy, her third and final child. Though out the story, she is depicted as sitting quietly smoking a cigarette. Amanda remembers her mother before her illness as an alive but emotionally fragile woman, but Lizzy has never known her mother without her mental illness or the effects of the drugs used to treat it. It is Amanda, however, who feels bitter for being robbed of what Lizzie never even knew. She is also angry that she never took the chance to be closer to her mother. She is especially aware how she squandered those opportunities during last summer’s vacation. Amanda cannot forgive her mother for her illness or herself for not reaching out more. Athena, the owner of the Laughing Gull Cottages, is an enigmatic character that casts her spell over the characters in this novel. Like an earth mother goddess, she floats through the story in her gauze dresses and Birkenstocks talking about the healing qualities of gems and herbal teas. She seems to be able to read Amanda’s mind and to make the most improbable things happen. If she is not an earthbound spirit then at least for those who know her, she has achieved a reputation of mythic proportions.

Maryanne Stahl is a professor of literature and creative writing at Kennesaw State University in Atlanta, GA. She is, however, a native New Yorker. Forgive the Moon is her first novel and she is currently writing her second novel set on Shelter Island, NY.

Forgive the Moon by Maryanne Stahl is an exquisite novel. The characters and setting are as beautiful as they are real. Like the light of the moon dancing on the ocean waves at night, this novel is liberally sprinkled with nature’s own brilliant gems. This is a book to read again and again. Buy two copies – one to share and one to keep, because like true love this book is a treasure that will never be far from your heart. Need I say it? I HIGHLY recommend this book.


Link: Author web site

© 2002 Su Terry

Su Terry: Education: B.A. in History from Sacred Heart University, M.L.S. in Library Science from Southern Connecticut State College, M.R.S. in Religious Studies/Pastoral Counseling from Fairfield University, a M.Div. in Professional Ministry from New Brunswick Theological Seminary, a Certificate in Spirituality/Spiritual Direction from Sacred Heart University. She is a Licensed Minister of the United Church of Christ and an Assistant Professor in Library Science at Dowling College, Long Island, NY. Interests in Mental Health: She is interested in the interplay between psychology, biology, and mysticism. Her current area of research is in the impact of hormonal fluctuation in female Christian mystics.