Last Sunday I mentioned Nalo Hopkinson’s 2003 novel, The Salt Roads; today I’ve got her 2007 novel The New Moon’s Arms on the book-brain.
I finished reading it on the front porch on an exceptionally lovely summer afternoon, the sort which is actually too hot and bright to properly enjoy if you have to get places but it’s just beautiful for sitting in the shade, Goldilocks perfect, temperate and fine, suitable for imagining the fictional Caribbean island of Dolorosse where The New Moon’s Arms is set, with the breeze through the tallest trees mimicking the sound of water on a busy urban street.
Nalo Hopkinson’s fourth novel does not begin, however, with the kind of calm and quiet I was enjoying on my porch-sit, but with chaos and disruption; 53-year-old Calamity (who has changed her name from Chastity) is menopausal and grieving the loss of her father (who has been ill for a long time) and a woman at his funeral has just lost her knickers and taken a tumble.
It’s a brilliant scene so I don’t want to say any more about it, only encourage you to experience it for yourself; you get a good sense of Calamity’s sassy compassion while the scene is set and of course what’s more quintessentially transformative scene than a graveside scene?
The New Moon’s Arm is about transformation, of all sorts (emotions, understandings, acceptances, responsibilities, connections, physiological shifts, etc.). And Calamity is at the heart of that, at the heart of a web of relationships, for “love them or hate them, people get hooks into you. When they leave, you have to take the hooks out, one by one.”
Calamity lives on Dolorosse, part of a group of islands called Cayaba, which is advertised as the “home of the rare monk seal”. The advertisement shows “three seals frolicking in the surf — two adults and a child — as though seals hooked up in nuclear family units. At each corner of the image was a mermaid, exotically brown but not too dark. No obvious negroes in Cayaba Tourist Board publicity, unless they were dressed as smiling servers.”
Of course savvy folks will know better than to trust advertisements. In The New Moon’s Arms there isn’t a single, typical nuclear family unit; there’s not one smiling server; and the mermaids aren’t exotically brown. Yes, that’s right, I said mermaids. But you shouldn’t trust me either: mermaids don’t exist, right?
Still, you might want to know what would make me say such a thing. True enough that Calamity’s doctor has sent her home with pamphlets titled things like “Life’s Next Big Step” and “A Healthy Attitude”, but the kinds of changes he’s expecting Calamity to wrestle with are a world away from her changing reality. Because it’s not just her hormones that are fluctuating, but seemingly the very landscape surrounding her, first a single tree and then an entire cashew grove, then things that don’t seem to belong to even a remembered reality, but from somewhere else unknown.
Calamity says: “Don’t try to come up with a story to explain it, then talk yourself into believing the story. That thing out there don’t have no explanation. Until or unless it choose to go away back again, I have to live with that knowledge every morning I wake up and see it. Don’t let me have to live with that alone.”
And Nalo Hopkinson has come up with a story. One which took, as a starting point, a theory that events we think of as unexplainable might manifest out of intense emotions and tension that have been repressed, such as those experienced in puberty and, possibly, menopause, which makes this work a solid choice for a Women Unbound Reading Challenge (although, really, any of Nalo Hopkinson’s work would fit this challenge because issues of gender and se*ual identity are so often explored in her writing).
But you needn’t have a reading challenge to move Nalo Hopkinson onto your reading list; you just have to love a good story, love someone talking you into believing a good story, talking yourself into believing it, taking the explanations that feel real to you, whether or not there’s some magic in there to live with.
Are you adding this one to your TBR list? Or does another of her books appeal more strongly to you?