In The Girl Who Chased the Moon, an elderly giant visits his clothes dryer for messages from beyond, moody wallpaper switches patterns and the town’s most privileged family declines to leave their house after dark. Welcome to Mullaby, North Carolina, a magical, mythical town where the ever-present scent of hickory-smoked barbecue hangs in the air, and where novelist Sarah Addison Allen casts her latest literary spell.
Readers who devoured Allen’s first two novels, Garden Spells and The Sugar Queen, will recall that both beguiling narratives served up mouthwatering sweets alongside a charming, albeit eccentric, cast of characters. While the divine healing powers of homemade cakes and pies are also featured in Allen’s third novel, her 17-year-old heroine Emily Benedict is neither an earth mother, nor a brokenhearted muse. Instead, Allen’s rendering of Emily is painfully realistic, capturing the gnawing loneliness and uncertainty of a grieving young woman who discovers her welcome in Mullaby—her late mother’s hometown—is lacking the usual Southern hospitality. Indeed, the town’s outspoken spinster sisters, Inez and Harriet, speak aloud what everyone is thinking.
“Her mother had a lot of nerve, sending her here,” Inez said. “What a thing to do to a child.” Harriet shook her head. They were both staring at Emily unabashedly. “She’s never going to fit in.”
An Asheville, North Carolina, native, Allen has embraced her Southern gothic roots, writing novels that are brimming with gossips and misanthropes, not unlike the bizarre townspeople who inhabit the works of Carson McCullers and Flannery O’Connor. But unlike McCullers and O’Connor, who never shied away from the bleakness and depravity of human nature, Allen seems unable to stop herself from weaving at least a few redeeming and preternaturally beautiful characters into her novels. Allen’s tendency to wrap her novels in redemption and romance is likely to be appreciated by fans who enjoy a happy ending, but it is worth noting that her most lyrical writing is marked by unadorned realism. As Allen writes of the Mullaby barbecue:
“It was at first a Sunday tradition, then a symbol of the community, and eventually an art form, the art of old North Carolina, an art born out of work so hard it could fell a hearty man. . . . Eventually the origin and the reasons fell away from the bone, and all that was left was a collective unconscious, a tradition without a memory, a dream every person in the town of Mullaby had on the same date every year.”
The Girl Who Chased the Moon is an enchanting look at life in a small town.