The Measure of the Moon by Lisa Preston is a mix of mystery and domestic suspense that weaves together two stories of love, lies, and secrets resulting in a shocking conclusion.
Eight-year-old Greer Donner, on a joyride with horse Clipper, is thrown from the mount. Now, having a good four-hour trek home with darkness closing in, he begins huffing it. On a back forest road, he spots a vehicle, hoping he can get a ride or borrow a phone. Instead, a scene of horrific violence is playing out—and his life ends up being altered forever.
The glare of the SUV’s headlights lit up the sight of a man in a suit roaring at a woman in a dress and a turtleneck. She cowered. He drew back one hand and belted her solidly across the right side of her face, deflating her last cry, sending her to the ground. Greer’s stomach clenched.
Realizing that the SUV’s headlights protected him from being seen, Greer crept closer, pausing at the open driver’s door. A silver pistol lay tucked between the floor and the leather driver’s seat.
Greer—summoning immense courage for anyone let alone a kid—grabs the gun and calls out the abuser, “Sir, you shouldn’t do that.” The victim gets back into her car (with her screaming baby) and takes off. I spoke out loud to this spineless character, asking her how she could leave a kid there with that psycho.
The man gets the drop on Greer, swipes the gun, and once he has learned Greer’s name and all the names in Greer’s family, he threatens to kill them all if the young hero doesn’t keep his mouth shut about what he has witnessed. Greer agrees and is left alone in the dark. (Not since Stephen King’s The Girl Who Loved Tom Gordon has a child wandering in the woods conjured up such terrifying aspects.)
Interweaved and eventually connected narrative involves Gillian Trett, a photographer who snaps pictures that win prestigious awards, lives in Seattle with her scientist husband, and seems to have everything going for her. But, for starters, she ignores constant calls from her baby sister, and their conjoined history of a troubled upbringing clouds any chance of a stable present.
Part of her solace is the work she loves, and she regularly buys old cameras not just for the old contraptions but also for any possible film left inside. A recent purchase by her husband has her dwelling over a haunting image of some children in a forest.
They had lived their lives, fulfilled their promise to whatever extent. But the day this old shot was taken, they were ratty, scrawny, in front of scrubby trees. These children looked old in youth.
Their tattered clothes, collars and pockets dangling, harked to a time long past. The trouser hems were rolled up on some of the kids, while others wore too-small clothes that left their ankles exposed. Oh, those children. Some of them were probably dead if her guess about the time frame—forties? fifties?—was correct. Some of them had gone on to make meaning out of their lives, surely. They had a story for having been standing in a clearing, looking dirty and whipped and somehow brave.
Who among us haven’t at one time or another stared at old photos, especially unidentified images, wondering about those lives that were frozen for posterity. (Julio Cortazar’s must read short story “Blow-Up” builds brilliantly on this premise.)
Lisa Preston has crafted a novel with ingenious connecting facets: how a lost child in the woods, a woman with a troubled past, and a forgotten photo meld. The mystery is sustained throughout this pleasingly unpredictable novel.
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David Cranmer is the publisher and editor of BEAT to a PULP. Latest books from this indie powerhouse include the alternate history novella Leviathan and sci-fi adventure Pale Mars. David lives in New York with his wife and daughter.