When Jami Attenberg’s newest novel, The Melting Season, opens with a young, jilted wife fleeing her Nebraskan farmhouse accompanied by a suitcase full of her husband’s money, it seems time to settle in for a good, old-fashioned journey of redemption and self-discovery. True to form, Catherine, known as Moonie because her husband, in happier times, had declared that she was his moon and he her star, soon finds herself alone on the highway with only a vague notion of heading westward.
In her first encounter with the unknown, Moonie arrives at a strange roadside diner where she downs drinks with a group of seemingly-nefarious characters. Escaping a precarious, but ultimately impotent, situation with a father and son tag team, Moonie continues her trek toward Vegas.
Quickly after arriving in the city, Moonie becomes acquainted with Valka, a recent cancer survivor who is also traveling solo. The women become fast friends; in fact, in a blink of an eye, they are best friends, destined to spend the remainder of their lives with one another. And here, amidst a bizarre party comprised of the Beatles and Prince and multiple Britney Spears impersonators, the journey that never really began comes to a screeching halt.
The tale of Moonie’s escape is intermittently punctuated with descriptions of her former life which portend to elucidate her need for flight. The meaning behind Moonie’s abbreviated bout with independence and, even more so, the reason for her brief and sudden return home, however, remain ill-explained.
The Melting Season offers bits of sharp wit and glimpses of insight into the mind of a woman trying to pick herself up after losing the only world that she had ever known or desired. In the end, though, Moonie fails to command the sort of empathy required to carry a novel centered around her struggle for personal growth.
Attenberg will read and discuss The Melting Season on February 4th at the Book Cellar.