The Moon is Down by John Steinbeck. 1942/1995. Penguin. 144 pages.
By ten-forty-five it was all over. The town was occupied, the defenders defeated, and the war finished.
A novella by John Steinbeck published in the spring of 1942. Set in an unnamed country, an unnamed town even, it features a conquering but-again-nameless army. Of course, it's easy to read between the lines, to see the setting as Northern Europe, and the conquering enemy as the Nazis. And the message of this one is fairly simple. Resist. Resist. Resist. Ordinary people can in very small ways make a difference.
The reader meets a handful of characters on both sides. We get a portrait of those town folks who have been conquered but are determined to fight for their freedom. We get a portrait of the soldiers, the invaders. These soldiers are not as heartless and cruel as evil as you might expect. The picture Steinbeck paints is more human, more complex than that. They are men. Ordinary men who have been given orders, who have been assigned a job to do. For the duration of the war, they have to turn off their emotions, or else go crazy trying to stay on top of them all. The mental crises these soldiers face as the war continues....well, it's disturbing. We see the effect of war on everybody concerned.
How do I feel about this Steinbeck? I liked it. It reminded me of why I love Steinbeck. Of why I love the experience of reading Steinbeck. I love his descriptions, for example.
The paintings on the wall were largely preoccupied with the amazing heroism of large dogs faced with imperiled children. Nor water nor fire nor earthquake could do in a child so long as a big dog was available. (4)
Doctor Winter was a man so simple that only a profound man would know him as profound. (4)
Joseph habitually scowled at furniture, expecting it to be impertinent, mischievous, or dusty. In a world where Mayor Orden was the leader of men, Joseph was the leader of furniture, silver, and dishes. Joseph was elderly and lean and serious, and his life was so complicated that only a profound man would know him to be simple. (4-5)
This is a small book--a novella--about what it means to be a hero; what it is like to fight a war...whether you're a soldier or not.
© Becky Laney of Becky's Book Reviews