Iona Moon, by Melanie Rae Thon
The world of Iona Moon, the main character of the book, is a flat and desolate place where your past never leaves you—or rather, you can never leave it, no matter how hard you try. Iona is a girl from the poor side of town who doesn’t play by the rules when it comes to boys. Melanie Rae Thon doesn’t make it clear what year this is, but the sexual attitudes make it feel like it could be anytime in the last one hundred years. Jay, a golden-boy high-school diver, and Willy, the upright son of the sheriff, grow up with Iona and similarly come close to drowning under the weight of their pasts and the emptiness of their futures.
The draw of this book isn’t the plot—the characters start out in White Falls, Idaho, and they end up there, not far from where they started. Everything that happens is a journey of the spirit, told in painful detail along the way. Even before the events are tragic, the bleakness of the setting weighs on the reader like a ton of ice. Thon uses imagery that blends the past and the present, the dream world and the material, in language reminiscent of Louise Erdrich, or what the book jacket calls "Faulknerian lyricism". She explores the things that we cannot escape, and the inner worlds we carry with us no matter where we go.
This book was in interesting juxtaposition to other books I’ve been reading recently, books that made me appreciate my roots. In “Iona Moon”, the roots are more like twining vines that hold you down and strangle you. All the bad things that happen to you, past and present, combine into a single suffocating organism. Iona’s best friend, Jeweldeen marries Iona’s brother, and when Iona says "I didn't think you even liked him," Jeweldeen says "He'll do"-- White Falls is just that kind of place.
Like “Out”, the characters in “Iona Moon” can’t find release by destroying their lives, but by accepting them--by returning to each other. Even when Iona leaves, she must return and reconcile herself to what she was trying to leave behind. And although this should be the more acceptable option, somehow it feels unsatisfying. Unlike "Out", these characters don't give you anything to root for or anything to feel except their own hopelessness. Maybe it’s shallow of me, but without motion of the plot to draw me forward, I got mired in the bleakness of this world. I appreciate the beauty of the language and the reality it reflects, but like the characters, I couldn’t wait to get out of it.