Lee Polevoi '74
Review of "The Moon in Deep Winter"
From ForeWord, a publication for booksellers and librarians (Jan. 2009)
Casagrande Press, Hardcover $23.95 (222 pp) 978-0-9769516-5-0
Anyone suffering from even mild depression will be wise to set this book aside and not pick it up again until the sun shines brightly or the liquor kicks in. The setting, the characters, the plot are all awash in gloom. Still, the story is irresistible. The time is 1981. After five years of ne-er-do-well rambling, Parker Sloane returns on a surprise visit to his home in rural Massachusetts, just as winter is about to descend. There he is greeted (with varying degrees of hostility and suspicion) by his harried mother; his overbearing stepfather, Burke Sullivan; a sullen younger stepbrother, Walt, who’s building an airplane engine in his room and fantasizing about escaping to Easter Island, a beautiful stepsister, Rita, for whom Parker feels an immediate sexual attraction; and Burke’s ancient and deranged mother, Eugenia. The family is a minefield.
Although there is a suspenseful build-up to the inevitable emotional explosion, this book is not a mystery in the classic sense. There’s no big secret waiting to be revealed that clarifies and unifies this maze of dysfunctions. Rather, the mystery lies in how each of the characters will unravel under the enormous pressure of simply being around each other. Rita, who wants to be a dancer, is the sanest of the lot, the one least haunted by memories, misdeeds, ambitions or despair. Parker, through whose eyes the story develops, longs to know more about his real father, who, according to his mother, drowned in a motel swimming pool. Walt alternately withers and rages under his own father’s unconcealed disdain for him.
Adding tinder to the mix is Dr. Leo Trunk, who identifies himself as a professor of paleoanthropology on sabbatical from Harvard. He, too, casts a carnal eye on Rita and dazzles the stolid Walt by attempting to teach him to fly. Deputy Sheriff Alf Cooper appears to have something going with Parker’s mother. Convoluted though this may sound, the author keeps his narrative threads straight and sculpts his characters with exquisite precision, never allowing their intrinsic strangeness to become distractingly grotesque.
Polevoi is also a master of scene setting. That quality is evidenced here as he describes a nocturnal ice-fishing outing on which Parker and Walt confront the wily and paranoid Burke, who’s just told them a World War II story about parachuting at night behind enemy lines. “A hush overtook GhostLake. Looking up, Parker imagined wave upon wave of fledgling spies falling from the sky. He noticed Burke fumbling inside his flight jacket as if scratching an obscure itch, and thought: I can’t take much more of this. But when the old man squirmed free of the jacket and he saw what he was holding—the revolver from the desk drawer with an eagle on the ivory grip—he felt not alarmed so much as simply in thrall to the rush of oncoming events.” That’s pretty much the way the reader will react. (November) Edward Morris
The Moon in Deep Winter
Lee Polevoi '74 Publishes Debut Novel
Two-decades of work for author come to fruition with The Moon in Deep Winter
•On Nov. 13, at 7 p.m., Polevoi will be reading from The Moon in Deep Winter at Bookworks, 2670 Via de la Valle, (858) 755-3735.
Lee Polevoi, author of The Moon in Deep Winter (Casagrande Press), wants to assure people that, though the plot of his novel would convincingly suggest otherwise, he does not come from “a homicidally dysfunctional family.”
Like the darkly comedic aesthetic presented by Joel and Ethan Coen, directors of among other films “Fargo,” “Blood Simple,” “The Big Lebowski,” and “Miller’s Crossing” (all of which Polevoi cites as influences), The Moon in Deep Winter centers on Parker Sloane, who, after a foray into third-world-cash smuggling, returns to his home in the Berkshire Mountains only to encounter the paranoid, unpredictable, dangerous characters of his own New England family.
“It’s not autobiographical,” said Polevoi. “I took liberty with my imagination. I don’t come from a family like this. It’s the secret life you have to live as a writer.”
If devising the harrowing and humorous story (also informed by the writing styles of Denis Johnson, John Banville, and Thomas Berger) was a labor of Polevoi’s creative mind, the process of getting the book out on shelves has been a labor of love and constant learning.
When The Moon in Deep Winter is published on Nov. 3, it will ostensibly mark the beginning of author Lee Polevoi’s career as a published novelist, but it will also give credence to the nearly 20-year process that went into molding the finished story.
“It’s reached its logical conclusion for me,” said Polevoi. “I’m not doing any more work on it.”
Though it could be taken as exasperation with an arduous process, Polevoi is anything but frustrated. In fact, his hopes are aimed high.
“I’m ready for it to be made into a Coen brother’s movie.”
It’s a desire any writer would express, but there is more than a little in Polevoi’s own backstory to substantiate this dream.
Polevoi followed the traditional tract of fiction writers, earning an undergraduate creative writing degree from Amherst College and a M.F.A. in creative writing from Warren Wilson College.
Before moving to San Diego, Polevoi and his soon-to-be-wife, Maxine Fischer, lived in New Orleans’ French Quarter, where he worked at the Audubon Zoo.
Between living in the French Quarter and working at the zoo, Polevoi was able to generate ideas for a novel, Whispers in the Zoo. Though the book led him to a finalist spot in the Association of Writers & Writing Programs national competition, an agent was unable to sell the story, and it was shelved.
Working in the public relations office of Scripps Mercy Hospital in Hillcrest, Polevoi, in the late 1980s, began writing a novel called Hunter’s Moon, which would eventually, become The Moon in Deep Winter.
On the strength of a few chapters of Hunter’s Moon, in 1992 Polevoi was one of 10 writers out of more than 3,000 accepted for a $20,000 Chesterfield Writer’s Film Project screenwriting fellowship, an award sponsored by Universal Pictures and Amblin Entertainment.
“It was amazing,” Polevoi said of the experience putting together screenplays, pitching stories, and writing scripts. “We didn’t know anything, we were learning on the job.”
Following the screenwriting fellowship, and a stint working for director Fraser Heston (son of Charlton Heston), for whom he adapted the Joseph Conrad novel Freya of the Seven Isles, Polevoi rewrote Hunter’s Moon with the refined emphasis on focus, character development, and story progression he took from the fellowship.
The rewriting process took another four years, as Polevoi wasn’t at liberty to give up a day job and focus entirely on writing.
“I’d love to work full time at writing, but I’ve become addicted to food and shelter,” he joked.
Polevoi is a senior communications specialist at Vistage International, the world’s leading chief executive organization.
“I like my job,” he said. “Plus, it pays better than working at a zoo.”
To finish his novel, Polevoi said he was “ruthless” in carving out time to write.
“It helps to have a wonderful wife who understands,” he added.
With The Moon in Deep Winter finally set for publication, Polevoi, while overjoyed, is also ready to move on. He’s already at work on a second novel, tentatively titled The Confessions of Gabriel Ash, a tale of intrigue set in New York and a fictional Easter European Communist state during the Cold War.
“I’ve gotten a lot of mileage out of The Moon in Deep Winter,” he said. “I’m ready for it to take on its own life.”
On Nov. 13, at 7 p.m., Polevoi will be reading from The Moon in Deep Winter at Bookworks, 2670 Via de la Valle, (858) 755-3735. For more information, go to www.moonindeep.com.