To See the Moon Again by Jamie Langston Turner begins with Julia, a widowed, middle-aged, introvertish teacher of Creative Writing at a university in South Carolina. Her tightly-controlled world has been shaken up a little by the award of a sabbatical, a paid year off from teaching, and she is not quite sure what to do with herself. But it is shaken up even more by a message on her answering machine: Carmen, a niece she has never met, daughter of her estranged brother, is in the state and planning to come to see her. While Julia hopes with everything in her that Carmen doesn’t come, of course, she does, and while Julia plans to send her off again as soon as possible, for various reasons she can’t.
Carmen is Julia’s opposite in many ways: she is free-spirited, open, gregarious, and a Christian. Julia thinks Carmen’s faith is naive and unrealistic. But as the two women get to know each other, we learn more of what makes each of them the way they are. Both have had a number of hard breaks and tragedies, both have actions in their pasts that they can’t forgive themselves for. Julia takes Carmen along on a trip which takes them both literally and figuratively to far different places than they had first imagined.
I identified with Julia and her introverted way of thinking quite a bit, but I can understand that some readers may not like her. Sometimes introverts can come across as standoffish, and Julia has other reasons as well for holding people at arm’s length. Although I like Julia, I haven’t liked many of Mrs. Turner’s main characters in other books, but as I got to know them, their background, what makes them tick, and came to understand them better, I could at least empathize and usually came to like them as well. It’s like what Lizzie said recently: you just never know what is going on behind the scenes in most people’s lives, or as someone else has said, “Be kind, for everyone you meet is fighting a hard battle.”
I like the way Mrs. Turner gradually reveals the depth of her characters. I like that the spiritual truth in the book comes not from an expert who has it all together, but from a young woman who is still dealing with issues herself. I also like that the ending isn’t tied up with a neat bow: things are left a little more open, but you know both characters are on their way to where they need to be. I have to admit to a little disappointment with the ending: without revealing anything, I had hoped it would go the way Julia was thinking it would. Yet I can see that the choices that were made were necessary to the growth of both Julia and Carmen.
Many of Mrs. Turner’s books have the aspect of an outsider looking in on someone else of faith, and that is an interesting and refreshing perspective. They also have grace and redemption as major themes. She’s often described as a different kind of Christian fiction author, and I would agree.
Since I spent 26 years of my adult life in South Carolina, fourteen of them in the town where Mrs. Turner lives, which is near the town many of her books are set in, I very much enjoyed that aspect of the book as well. I knew some of the places mentioned and knew the pattern of spring blooming that she described and could very much picture it. And some of the different types of Southerners were familiar as well.
Since Mrs. Turner is also a teacher of Creative Writing, there are often literary references in many of her books. This one contains a lot of mention of Flannery O’Connor, someone I have never read but now want to.
An interview with the author about this book is here. I think this is my favorite of her books, and I hope you’ll give it a try.
(This review will also be linked to Semicolon‘s Saturday Review of Books.)