Perhaps it comes from early exposure to Douglas Adams or eating too many Costco frozen burritos when I was in high school. (After reading Chasing the Moon, either seem equally plausible.) Whatever the reason, I love my humor with a healthy dose of the absurd. Chasing the Moon by A. Lee Martinez is absurdism at its best with a large helping of gourmet silly sauce on the side. Think Jasper Fforde meets H. P. Lovecraft and you get the idea.
The premise is quite simple. Diana needs an apartment; she is offered an apartment which is too good to be true. Against her better judgement she makes the Faustian bargain. Almost immediately she runs into a problem when a voice speaks to her from the closet which the landlord warned her strictly not to open. As she is considering her options the phone rings. A shortened version of the phone conversation with her new landlord is included on the back cover of the book:
“Inside that closet is an ancient entity known as Vom the Hungering. He’s actually a pretty decent sort, as ancient spawns go. But if you let him out of that closet, he will eat you.”
Diana lowered the phone, “You’re going to eat me?”
“Yeah, probably. Don’t suspect it helps anything if I apologize in advance.”
What follows next is a Beetlejuician romp through a world populated by bickering ancient spawn, quirky neighbors, and hilarious adventures. Nothing makes sense, but that is the point. In Diana’s world the human mind is forced daily to grapple with concepts and concerns that violate her reality. Hers is a world in which our existence hangs by the tiniest of threads and saving the world is a regular chore like fixing the boiler in the basement.
I really appreciated how Martinez crafted a world in which his main character’s natural empathy provides her with the ability to understand what others cannot. She takes the world as it is, and this gives her an ability to cope with the ridiculous. She learns not to panic. She just makes decisions and gets things done. This puts her way ahead of others who simply cannot deal with the abnormal world around them.
Act two is always the most difficult to pull off well in any book. Act one introduces the characters and premise. Act three resolves the tension. Act two is supposed to expand our understanding of the characters and increase the tension. That can be quite difficult to do. The tendency can be to let act two drag a little and that is the case for Martinez’s book. A few of the sub-adventures in act two have little or no relation to the main thread which ties act one and three together. These adventures are fun in themselves and can be amusing, but they feel a little episodic when they lack threads which tie them to the main plot.
Yet these are just quibbles. Diana, her monsters and often her landlord caused me to laugh aloud throughout the course of the book. Oddly enough, thinking about Diana’s ability to handle whatever came her way gave me the gentle poke in the ribs I needed to make sure I don’t get so bent out of shape when the absurd makes its appearance in my quaint existence. Most importantly, Chasing the Moon is just a wonderfully absurd bit of fun.