It’s clear why Charles Dubow’s Girl in the Moonlight is on so many summer reading lists: The story is passionate and engrossing; the writing simple, yet superb.
The novel tells the story of Wylie Rose who, at 9 years old, falls in love with Cesca Bonet–an impossibly beautiful, rich and incandescent girl a few years older. As teenagers, the two become lovers at her family’s summer home in East Hampton. But while Wylie wants forever, Cesca wants only freedom. As their paths cross and affair continues on and off over several decades, Cesca flees whenever Wylie’s passion becomes too constricting. Yet despite being hurt by Cesca time and again, Wylie’s devotion and desire never wanes. Instead, it flames into obsession, ruining him for other women (including the daughter of a count) and causing him to doubt his choices and his path.
A friendship with Cesca’s brother, an emerging painter named Aurelio, brings Wylie in and out of both Cesca’s life and the world of art. Painting plays a major role in the story as, through Aurelio, Wylie meets great artists and even gives a go at painting himself, attempting to live as an artist in New York City. In an interview with BookReporter, Dubow talks about his relationship with art, including how Goya’s Naked Maja and Manet’s Olympia inspired how he created and shaped Cesca: “There is an element of sensuality in the former and frankness in the latter, which I think sums up much of Cesca’s personality and the impact she has on people.”
“Sensual” is a great word to describe Girl in the Moonlight. Fans of Dubow’s debut novel, Indiscretion, won’t find the kind of R-rated sex that appeared there. Girl in the Moonlight is more PG or PG-13. But its sensuality is no less provocative and compelling. In fact, on many levels, it’s more real.
Not everyone will experience the kind of erotic passion that characters Claire and Harry do in Indiscretion. (Though how fabulous if we all did!) But the longing Wylie feels for Cesca–his ability, against reason, to move on and let go–is one that most of us have experienced, whether for a lover, a place, a talent or other desire that’s taken hold of our dreams and heart.
Peopled with engaging and poignant characters, Girl in the Moonlight takes readers from the wooded cottages of old East Hampton, to the dining rooms of Upper East Side Manhattan, to the bohemian art studios of Paris and Barcelona. As Kirkus wrote in its review, “Dubow offers a heady, intoxicating tale, and young Wylie’s journey to manhood is a memorable one.”
Charles Dubow will be one of our guests on the Monday, June 15, Literary New England Radio Show. Girl in the Moonlight will be among our giveaways that evening, as will Sy Montgomery’s The Soul of an Octopus: A Surprising Exploration into the Wonder of Consciousness and Jean Zimmerman’s Savage Girl. The show will feature interviews with all three of these authors and, while listening, you’ll have the chance to Tweet or email us to win one of these terrific books!