Review: Black Moon by Kenneth Calhoun

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Title: Black Moon

Author: Kenneth Calhoun

Publisher: Random House

Genre: General Fiction; Science Fiction

Rating: 3 out of 5 Stars

I had really high hopes for this novel.  I love apocalyptic fiction.  The idea of everyone starting to go crazy from a severe case of insomnia was both intriguing and frightening to me. Unfortunately, Black Moon just did not live up to the expectations I had for it.  My disappointment with this novel lays mostly with the end, so I’ll say some might consider this review to have spoilers, even though I have tried to discuss my issues with the end in general terms.

Black Moon follows the stories of four characters who have somehow survived the first wave of insomnia that is gripping the world and turning people into exhausted, crazy, sometimes violent hordes.  Biggs has lost his wife,Carolyn, one night and now must venture from the safety of their apartment in order to find her.  Chase and his friend, Jordan, loot the local drug store in the early stages of the epidemic and make off toward the mountains, hatching a plan to live off the drugs they can sell.  Felicia, Chase’s ex-girlfriend, is an intern at a sleep study clinic looking for a cure.  Lila is a high school student forced from her home when her insomniac parents start to turn on her.

Black Moon is a more literary take on the classic epidemic-apocalyptic novel, a favorite subgenre of mine.  I’ve read a lot of these types of novels. I used to read The Stand every summer and have read more zombie novels than I can count.  One thing these books all have in common is that when the epidemic turns apocalyptic everyone gets on the move.  That is true of Black Moon. Most of these books take these different story lines and converge them to have the characters work together towards an end that is satisfactory to the reader. This is where Black Moon disappointed me.  I got about 100 pages to the end and wondered out loud, “When are these characters going to get together and figure out where to go from here?” Calhoun just leaves everyone wandering into oblivion.

Most of the middle of this novel seems to focus on Chase, a college student who is desparate to get back with Felicia and motivated by wanting to get laid.  There’s really no other way to describe it.  Chase take erectile dysfunction pills in the middle of the novel and his story line becomes him dealing with an erection while succumbing slowly to insomnia.  It’s ridiculous and goes on far too long, to the point where I no longer cared what happened to Chase. All that space in the plot could have been used for Felicia and Lila who have much more interesting stories but feel very underutilized.  Biggs is the only character that was both interesting and well served, except at the end where the plot feels rushed in order to give him some sort of fate.

The best part of the novel is the language. It feels truly unique when we’re engrossed in a character’s interaction with one of the insomniacs. One chapter completely concerns itself with a couple named Jori and Adam.  I think they are related to Biggs but I can’t remember.  Jori and Adam are succumbing to insomnia while taking care of their newborn baby.  This chapter feels like its own separate short story.  The way Jori and Adam speak to one another is an awesome use of language to show two people slowly declining into madness. It’s the most disturbing chapter in the book.

I wish Calhoun had shortened all the erection stuff with Chase and focused a bit more on concluding his story.  While the way he uses language to show who is suffering from various stages of insomnia is interesting and not as gimmicky as it could have been, it just cannot sustain a story that seems to end with a whimper rather than a bang.

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