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The Vanishing Moon (Harvest Book) [Paperback]

Joseph Coulson

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Book Description

Dec 2004 Harvest Book
In The Vanishing Moon, Joseph Coulson writes with insight and beauty about the American working-class, about the strength and strain of family bonds, and about tragic incidents that haunt the human psyche over a lifetime. Set in Cleveland and Detroit, the novel chronicles two generations of the Tollman family, opening at the start of the Great Depression and moving forward through five decades to the Vietnam War. The first narrator, Stephen Tollman, looks back on his early adventures with his older brother, as both boys try to shield their siblings from the confusion and vulnerability of financial ruin. Later, as World War II approaches, Katherine Lennox, musician and political activist, offers an outsider’s view of the Tollmans, mesmerizing both Stephen and his brother with her energy and ambition. James Tollman comes of age in the 1960s, and as the youngest son in the family’s second generation, he strives to understand his father and mother amidst a summer of assassinations and civil unrest. Stephen returns to finish the story, struggling to hold his own against the currents of memory and abandoned dreams. Told with the compression and intensity of a poem, The Vanishing Moon is a novel of desire, unyielding necessity, and the people and places that inevitably disappear from our lives.
--This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.

Product details

  • Paperback: 351 pages
  • Publisher: Harvest Books; Reprint edition (Dec 2004)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0156030187
  • ISBN-13: 978-0156030182
  • Product Dimensions: 2.4 x 13.6 x 20.5 cm
  • Amazon Bestsellers Rank: 3,140,293 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

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THE SUMMER of 1931 was a season of dying trees. Read the first page
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Most Helpful Customer Reviews on (beta) 4.7 out of 5 stars  3 reviews
11 of 12 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Moonlight Off the Oasis: Coulson's Compelling American Saga 19 Jan 2004
By Dorion Sagan - Published on
Whereas we in the west speak of, and see, a "man" on the moon, the Chinese tell stories of and see a rabbit on the moon. Poet, playwright, and editor Joseph Coulson's great first novel is hardly focused on the moon and yet it is, one might say, focused on the vanishing of beautiful things for which the elusive moon is a most, perhaps the most, romantic emblem: a unique book of pressed wildflowers; the innocence of children playing in the woods before they become conscious of a humiliating poverty; and the exceptional beauty of the unconsummated (preserving the sublime) over the requited (wallowing in the mire) sexual relationship. A good novel asks more questions than it answers and displays a sort of secret symmetry; that is more than the case here. Coulson's compulsively readable multi-generational saga, a fugue of three first-person voices whose points of view and narrative overlap, is doubtless a powerful yet difficult way to craft a novel--as the intimacy of the "I" of each individual, pulling us into the depths of his or her consciousness, might seem to distract from the reader's having a narrative center of gravity. This is not the case here, perhaps because the voices are partitioned among two sexes and three generations-tent-stricken poverty and the end of childhood innocence outside Cleveland during the Great Depression in the first part of the novel (my favorite), told by a young Stephen Tollman; the Midwest in the middle of the century, seen through the eyes of the intelligent and beautiful Marxist pianist Katherine (a love interest for both Stephen and his surly, fascinating,1950s-mold-macho older brother, Phil) in the second part of the novel, squeezed into shape by WWII; and greater Detroit in the era of the late-60s Tigers in the third part, told through James, broken Phil's younger son, in the novel's third, Vietnam-and-Summer-of-Love part. A shorter fourth section, set partly in San Francisco, returns to the voice of Stephen, now a grown man working as a supervisor in a General Motors auto plant, and still in love with what he can never have. Coulson's fugue allows him to toggle between effects of extreme emotional intimacy, on the one hand, and panoramic narrative sweeps, on the other. The effect of the pulse-taking is that you feel you have had a genuine look into the cultural entrails-or under the hood, as it were-of the USA as it really ran throughout the whole middle of the 20th century. This is no mean achievement. I love John Fante (Charles Bukowski's favorite writer, and author of Ask the Dust), and Coulson's Phil Tollman-a stubborn man beaten by still more stubborn life-reminds me of them. Although Phil Tollman (who never narrates but is, nonetheless, the gravitational center of the novel) evinces less unpredictable charm than the Fante and Bukowski protagonists, his mold is quite similar-and because Coulson shows us so much more than merely a close-up of this captivating, never-say-die hard guy mold--he shows us the detailed world around it, the racial, feminist and social change that hardened it into its final form--his novel gives us the contrast, and context, with which to understand this secretly endearing American enigma. As the lusted-after Katherine, a relative sophisticate compared to the deprived, handsome Tollman brothers says while walking through the woods where their beautiful sister once played, "Everything is unbearably over with." That is the nature of a kind of acute poetic consciousness, what Nabokov called "future memory": she (although not my favorite character) sees, as they in the pain of the memory of their own suffering (their sister has died in these woods) perhaps do not, that even the presence of the present is fated to become a memory, and that that fate helps to constitute it, already always giving it, one might (getting a little carried away) say the melancholy melody of the moon. Coulson plays this sempiternal melody, with subtle panache and understated mastery, in the key of modern American history. Highly recommended (and much easier to get through than this review!).
5 of 5 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars An impoverished past treads upon the future 9 Jan 2005
By Luan Gaines - Published on
At the beginning of the 20th century, family was the backbone of a country on the brink of industrialization; it was this very progress that eventually shattered the family unit, as children left their ancestral farms to find work in the cities. Propelled into a fast-moving future, men adapted to opportunities never before available. The whole structure collapsed for the working class with the onset of the Great Depression of the 1930's. Jobs were scarce, companies were forced to close their doors and unemployment rose. The families who clung to each other during the Depression determined never to know that bone-chilling fear again, forever haunted by their lack of security.

Coulson reaches back into those desperate years, isolating one family and their travails to illustrate the hardships of working class Americans. The Tollman's have a home in Cleveland, but are forced by reduced circumstances to live in the country for a year. Ensconced in a tent, they are frozen by winter's chill, drenched by spring rain and anxious for relief. This is a pivotal time for the oldest Tollman boys, Phil and Stephen, as they wander the ice-crusted fields, climbing the barren trees of winter, burdened by the weight of a family touched by recent tragedy. By the time they return to Cleveland, their mother has gone blind and their father a mere shell of his former self.

The dark and brooding Phil and light-haired, sensitive Stephen both fall in love with a vital young woman, Katherine Lennox, a pianist and social activist with an enthusiasm for life that draws both young men to her like moths to flame. Their fated triangle plays out, permanently changing all of their lives; a great lesson of the heart for Katherine; a plunge into unexpected waters for Phil; and a reality-check for Stephen.

Phil, desperately unhappy, bludgeons his way through the following years, floundering in his discontent, while Stephen, a confirmed bachelor, remains in his brother's shadow, playing both a supportive and a taunting role. Their love-hate relationship is predominately founded on affection, the brothers tied inextricably to their past, unsettled by a future that covers five generations by the end of the story.

The female characters are strong and sensitive, offering the young men guidance and approval; yet they cannot alter the father's abandonment or Phil's helpless rage against an unfair life. Yet the family endures, mother, sons, daughter-in-law and grandchildren, passing from one generation to the next, their personal stories lost in the progress of a rapidly changing society.

This poignant novel about a family and a country coming-of-age is defined by the tragedy and foolish choices of their earliest years. The weight of the novel is redeemed through its poetic language and vision of a world as yet unsullied by disappointment and grief, by the innocence of two young boys who long to protect their mother and siblings from the encroaching poverty. The emotional trauma of the year of the tent has ill-prepared these young men for the challenges they will face in their lives, crippled by old resentments, yet dedicated to one another since boyhood.

Coulson balances the heartbreak of reality with scenes of unearthly beauty, the trembling thunder of trains racing across the tracks, the tenderness and passion of first love and the impulsive yearning of young men for a world that has a place for them. The fully-fleshed characters remind us that the stories of our ancestors may be obscured by time, but are no less relevant today, that once they knew the bright promise of youth and paid the price of their dreams. Luan Gaines/2005.
2 of 2 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Lucidly and impeccably rendered ... 21 Oct 2009
By JR - Published on
... a poignant and beautifully layered story ... deft with marveling resonance, this debut novel abounds with life and wonder.
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