Reviewed by Jenny Mounfield
the moon, the snow
by Nan Weizenbaum
Released Jan 2010
Abandoned by her muso boyfriend in America’s frozen north-west, Aurora Goldstein chooses to stay in the ramshackle cabin, alone with her broken dreams and nightmares. Each day she dons layers of insulation to battle the worst nature can dish out and treks the two miles or so to Shanksford—a town with an identity crisis—to collect her mail.
The only mail awaiting Aurora is junk mail, catalogues and leaflets often intended for others, but she carefully stows it in her pack and makes the painstaking journey back to the cabin where she then spends hours divining meaning from the random post in much the same way a psychic will divine tarot cards. I found this process, this junk mail divination, fascinating. Like Aurora, junk mail seems to be the one constant in my life. Unlike her, however, the leaflets don’t reveal anything about my state of being, and I certainly don’t leave them piled in shifting drifts all over my house. The image of a solitary woman sitting at a table surrounded by teetering stacks still resonates days after finishing her story.
Unable to bear the long nightmare-filled nights—the cause of which is never clarified, other than to hint at Aurora’s smothering family—Aurora starts inviting Shanksford’s single men back to her cabin. And so her life continues: collect the mail, divine the mail, bonk the next bloke until these events draw to an inevitable climax (pardon the pun), one that I suspect Aurora herself subconsciously engineered. More on this later.
At this point I really must comment on Weizenbaum’s prose: it’s excellent. So, too, is the parallel drawn between the frigid landscape and Aurora’s emotional white-out. Despite the fact that Weizenbaum must have spent hours agonising over every sentence the narrative is seamless. Almost every page has a gem. As one whose experience of snow and bitter cold is confined to the frame of my television screen, it is descriptions such as this that transported me:
The landscape is too inert to be eerie, rather it is surreal, a two-dimensional world, a black and white photograph in which you, somehow alive, exist. The moon shines without heat and there’s so little wind that you are tempted to pull off the garments which cover your ears to find out if the world is as silent as it is still.
Weizenbaum’s characters, too, are superb. Although the story is primarily Aurora’s, readers are treated to snapshots of other Shanksfordians, for the most part mill workers and fruit-pickers awaiting the thaw. Many are the men Aurora shares her bed with, none of whom are appealing. The relationship between neighbours AJ and his two loves, Joanne and Katie, is of particular interest. This dynamic could easily form the basis of its own novel—and perhaps should. And then there is tepee-dweller, Danny and his dog Roger. Possibly my favourite character, Danny is the only unattached man in town who hasn’t done the deed with Aurora. (Bravo Danny!)