November 18, 2011
What an extraordinary collection of short stories — This Road Will Take Us Closer to the Moon is narrated in the first person by Margaret Mackenzie from a perch of wisdom and reflection. These 14 linked, fictional stories start with her childhood in the 1950s (“That’s a Fact”) and end with her sister Eileen struggling to get Margaret into a supportive care facility (“Final Dispositions”). The approach to us as readers is intimate, with Margaret revealing her life humbly and openly, freewheeling comedic wise-cracks for levity. It gives this enticing collection an air of confessional authenticity.
I feel I want to go on and on about this narrator Margaret. She had such a mesmerizing draw on me, speaking from a center of yearning that’s neither overwrought nor oversimplified, rather perfectly articulated. Hers is the kind of narrative voice you don’t forget, telling life stories that feel as close as your own. Perhaps that’s because they capture how we all yearn for possibilities we can’t seem to touch, and when they pass us by, as they eventually do, we can’t seem to reason our way through them. “I am forever trying to make life offer reasons,” Margaret says.
That statement comes in a story about a book club, which Margaret describes as a chance for her group of friends to get together and talk about themselves. This night, they talk about themselves and World War II. “Another night it might be ourselves and recycling.” As with all the stories in this distinctive collection, author Linda McCullough Moore uses Margaret’s wonderment to veer into meaningful spaces beyond the main plot. In this story, she tackles the complexities of God’s existence in the face of war’s horrors and a scorn toward religion versus a need for salvation.
In other stories, Margaret runs into her ex-husband at Boston’s Logan Airport; walks out on her boring job; dates loser men she’s met online; works as a waitress; visits a childhood friend who’s now a Catholic priest, yet once was a frank Baptist; and takes her stroke paralyzed mother to her childhood home. They are filled with questions about life, death and God in Margaret’s search for meaning and purpose, such as when Margaret returns to her hometown late in middle age and thinks, “…it occurs to me I have somehow misplaced thirty years…and realize I can account for maybe half my life.” During a family Thanksgiving, she thinks:
“You don’t know anything is happening while it is going on. You can stop the clock a hundred times a day, but when you wake up the next morning, it will still be 7:45 and there will be an odd tapping on the roof, and you’ll be late before you’ve even gotten out of bed.”
This Thanksgiving story epitomizes the bizarre in family holidays. Margaret’s family visits an ancient aunt at a nursing home on Turkey Day and breaks into singing and dancing of “Hava Nagila” in the visitors’ room. They also go to the cemetery to visit family gravesites, and a nephew mistakenly takes pictures of Macintosh tombstones, instead of their family, Mackenzie. On the way home from the cemetery, Margaret’s niece insists she take a spontaneous right turn because the road will take them closer to the moon.
These are warm, inviting stories that portray a thoughtful connection to life with emotional truth-seeking. And Margaret is unforgettable, ultimately encouraging us to live the meaning of the Hebrew song “Hava Nagila”: Let us rejoice and be glad.