Chasing the Moon
by A. Lee Martinez
Diana thinks she's found the perfect apartment. It's already furnished, exactly to her taste. Whatever she wants to eat magically materializes in the refrigerator. Plus, as long as she lives in it, she will neither age nor die. The part where it's all too good to be true is that she can never leave the apartment unless she opens a closet containing an otherworldly monster named Vom the Hungering, whose appetite is endless. Being eaten by Vom is the only way she can die. And taking that chance is the only way she can get out of the apartment.
It seems obvious at the outset that this is going to be a short novel. And it is rather short, but not for the obvious reason. Quite early in it, Diana does let Vom out—but instead of him eating her then and there, they work out an arrangement for living together as roommates. This turns out to be the first test of Diana's aptitude as a "warden" in an apartment building that bridges the space between realities where things are disturbingly different from back home. And it is the beginning of Diana's struggle to keep her world (and ours) from being torn to shreds by a plague of bizarre visitors from other dimensions, beings who so belong elsewhere that their presence bends our reality to the breaking point.
Some of those threats from beyond end up as additional roommates as Diana's apartment becomes more and more a refuge for misplaced monsters. There's the giant purple hedgehog who constantly spawns clones of himself, all different sizes; when stressed, he can quickly fill a room to the point of mutually assured suffocation. Then there's the giant, floating, tentacle-fringed eyeball who can shoot death rays out of his pupil. They aren't the only strange folks in the building either. The couple in Apartment 3 takes turns appearing in the form of a giant batlike creature. The stud in Apartment 2 lives in terror of the alien puppy-thing that sits guard outside his door. The building super, a hairy number named West, enlists Diana's aid in fixing the boiler to delay a future plague of giant insects who live backward in time. And there's also an apartment in which, from time to time, a bucket of fried chicken needs to be thrown into a bottomless pit in order to keep gravity online.
All this is disturbing enough, but as you learn long before Diana does, there's an even bigger threat to the way things in our world are supposed to work. A huge tentacly creature out of Norse mythology is trying to devour the moon. When it does, it could bring the end of the world. And nobody seems to want that more than a shapechanging cult of six-legged werewolves who worship a mild-mannered fellow named Calvin, who has been trapped on Earth for thousands of years. When Calvin decides it's time to go, the human race's time may be up. It depends on how he decides to go... and that depends, somewhat, on Diana.
When you've been reviewing the kind of books I have for as long as I have, you learn to take a weird opening sentence, paragraph, page, or chapter in stride. But nothing prepared me for the weirdness of the beginning of this book. It was so shockingly, disorientingly weird that I thought twice about continuing to read it. After a couple of chapters, however, I was so immersed in the book's steady procession of insane surprises and surprising insanities that I began to accept them as normal, textural features of a whimsical, chaotic world. Not that I was ever comfortable with them. I reckon this book hasn't done its job if it hasn't disturbed you with its dark, apocalyptic, yet at the same time zany worldview. It almost takes part in the Dadaist aesthetic, portraying our universe as a thin film of reality among an infinitely thick bundle of realities: a reality in which all meaning is essentially illusory, which is always in grave danger of being destroyed, and which only seems to be governed by consistent laws because of its (reality's) elastic way of snapping back to its original shape whenever something from outside stretches it. There are actually people who believe the laws of nature, as we know it, rest on such a flimsy foundation—and if their inner life is haunted by figments like the beings in this novel, I pity them.
St. Louis, USA
Recommended Age: 14+
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