by André Alexis
Days by Moonlight concerns the young botanist Alfred Homer’s journey across Southern Ontario. Alfred comes along to drive and assist Professor Bruno, a close friend of his late parents, as he interviews friends and family members of a mysterious poet––the subject of his biography-in-progress. Along the way, the pair bears witness to all sorts of callous, superficial, and absurd ways small-town Canadians attempt to reconcile with past wrongs against lower classes and racial minorities, as well as having more than a few supernatural encounters.
Days by Moonlight moves between satire and journey for self-discovery. The satirical writing, on one hand, is the great combination of to-the-point expression that makes the subjects appear ludicrous while the commentary simultaneously rings true enough to be believable. On the other hand, my favourite satires often back away from the surface comedy to make whatever the author’s criticizing come alive––the aspect that never comes to fruition within Alexis’ book. The issue is arguably tied to a lack of immediacy, that the plot is presented as Alfred’s recollections of a bunch of second-hand stories. But this comes across as having intention behind it; it was the point where I predicted a sudden tonal shift or at least vivid description to bring us into the moment when the author instead held strong and removed us further by turning things into a character reflecting on a story within a story within a story. And the weirdest thing was that I started to enjoy Days by Moonlight more in the midst of such a seemingly absurd exercise. It almost felt like Alexis anticipated my specific criticism and started deliberately taunting me.
This is where Days by Moonlight started freaking me out at least a little, mainly because this wasn’t the only thing that felt directed at me in some way. Once we moved into more of Alfred’s reflective exploration, I related so strongly to the experiences that grew out of his past trauma that help him to cope and to grow that things felt more personal than anything I can ever recall reading. And this is where the value of my assessment of the book becomes questionable. While my experience obviously can’t be unique, I’d hesitate to assume it’s common, and I struggle to imagine what the act of reading Days by Moonlight feels like without that personal touch. All I know is that it’s really strange for multiple important reasons, and it’s extremely difficult to evaluate as a result, though I will admit that the sillier details are at least fun to talk about with friends and family.