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Girl in the Moonlight


Girl in the Moonlight

In the opening scene of Charles Dubow’s second novel, GIRL IN THE MOONLIGHT (following INDISCRETION), set in the latter half of the 20th century, a man is busy rummaging through boxes in a nearly empty house. Most of the furniture inside has been sold off, and the knickknacks and tchotchkes have been either boxed up and donated or thrown away. An unrolled painting of a beautiful and naked woman is one of the only items that remain; it’s put aside. “The secret, they say, is not to regret --- but that, I have found, is impossible,” says our narrator, Wylie Rose, as he discards the last loose odds and ends. “The most one can hope for is to forget. Memory, though, is a poor servant. It bursts in on you when you least expect it.”

Wylie, it turns out, has spent most of his life trying --- but failing --- to forget the woman in the painting. Ever since he first laid eyes on her when he was nine years old and fell out of a tree on her family’s sprawling East Hampton compound while trying to impress her, Wylie has been obsessed with Cesca Bonet. A long-legged, dark-skinned, half-Catalan beauty (think Penelope Cruz), she is the epitome of perfection to him --- and practically every other man she meets.

"GIRL IN THE MOONLIGHT works as a whirlwind insider’s account of the intoxicating lifestyles of the filthy rich and fabulously famous."

Yes, this is a novel about privilege. Cesca and her three younger siblings from their heiress mother’s first marriage to a Spanish artist --- Aurelio, a gentle spirited painter; Cosmo and Carmen, a flawlessly talented and aloof set of twins --- are a well-cushioned part of New York’s cultured elite. They flit from the Hamptons to Barcelona to Venice to Paris on a moment’s whim, while their mother and stepfather (and often their respective lovers) throw lavish parties and entertain celebrated painters like Jackson Pollock on their mammoth Long Island estate. “They’re beautiful, talented, rich. It’s all very seductive,” Wylie’s father says of the Bonet clan. “But they’re like spoiled children. They’ll take everything and give nothing in return.”

That description couldn’t be more accurate, especially with regard to Wylie and Cesca’s “relationship.” For most of the book, Cesca thinks of no one but herself, despite Wylie’s incessant adoration. She burns through lovers on different continents, abuses drugs with Iggy Pop at Max’s Kansas City, nearly gets married to different men more than a few times, and has an abortion because it inconveniences her hot-to-trot lifestyle, all while stringing Wylie along. Cesca tells him more than once that her policy is never to apologize or give an explanation for her actions. But though he should know better, smitten Wylie crawls back to her every time, even it means busting up the few bona fide relationships he manages to cobble together with worthier women (one of whom is the daughter of a count).

At times, Wylie’s outlook on life seems not only infuriating, but also one-dimensional. Sure, as Dubow writes, “there is a monstrous selfishness about love…especially in its primal stages, when nothing else matters, when lovers create an artificial world which only they inhabit.” But because Wylie’s feelings are so one-sided and he keeps making the same mistake over and over again with Cesca, what we are left with is a frustrating reading experience. Just as though we’re apt to see less of our own friends who refuse to move on from an unhealthy relationship, so too are we likely to put aside a book filled with characters that don’t evolve.

But Dubow has more luck when writing about Aurelio’s passion for painting. He movingly depicts a portrait of an earnest yet fragile boy who develops an early love for drawing (and men) and works tirelessly to become a famous artist throughout most of the book. When Lio moves to Barcelona, shunning his family’s fortune and lavish lifestyle in favor of cultivating his true love --- art --- it’s easy to embrace him as the novel’s moral compass.

Dubow spent his childhood years in the Hamptons surrounded by his parents’ artsy friends (many of whom were well-known painters). He has also traveled to many of the settings in the book --- Paris, London, Venice --- so the descriptions have an extra element of authenticity. Despite its flaws, GIRL IN THE MOONLIGHT works as a whirlwind insider’s account of the intoxicating lifestyles of the filthy rich and fabulously famous. If flipping through celebrity gossip rags, keeping up on Kim Kardashian’s latest antics, or drooling over back seasons of “The Bachelor” and “The Bachelorette” are your thing, this book might just be the one for you.

Reviewed by Alexis Burling on May 15, 2015

Girl in the Moonlight
by Charles Dubow

  • Publication Date: May 3, 2016
  • Genres: Fiction
  • Paperback: 352 pages
  • Publisher: William Morrow Paperbacks
  • ISBN-10: 0062358332
  • ISBN-13: 9780062358332