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Raven Stole the Moon by Garth Stein

Garth Stein’s Raven Stole the Moon was originally printed in 1998, but was recently republished by Harper following Stein’s success with The Art of Racing in the Rain (my review). The Tlingit legend — including that of Raven — that becomes Jenna Rosen’s life is absorbing, blurring the lines of reality and folklore.  Jenna’s life fell apart upon the death of her son in an accident, and she spirals out of control, seeing psychiatrists and taking addictive pharmacological substances.  After emerging from a drug haze, she and her husband Robert go through the motions until Jenna makes a definitive move to change her life.

“The two options were mutually exclusive.  There was no middle ground.  Maybe I’m a little crazy and there are some spirits.  No.  It was either/or.  And Jenna was determined to find out which.”  (Page 199)

Set in the 1990s in Alaska and Washington State where it’s about “recapturing the glory of the eighties at a discount,” Stein crafts a surreal tale where reality blends with the past, the present, and folklore turning men into beasts and soul robbers and generating three dimensional characters ready to deal with the unknown and irreparable grief.

“Digging deep down into the crust of the earth, pumping black goo up to the surface, cooking it in aluminum containers so it can be used in a BMW.  The evolution of Man smells like gasoline.”  (Page 35)

Despite the tragedy in these pages, readers are on the edge of their seats as they ride with Jenna through the Alaskan wilderness to unravel the mystery behind her son’s death and uncover her heritage as a descendant of the Tlingit tribe.  Along the way, Jenna is joined by a lonely young man and a wild dog, while being pursued by a private investigator hired by her husband to find her.  Just as Jenna relaxes, the unknown creeps up on her alongside the harsh reality of the life she left behind, which all threatens to impinge on her life suspended in limbo.

Stein not only create dynamic characters; Dr. David Livingstone, the shaman who is consulted during the construction of Thunder Bay, resembles the original from Joseph Conrad‘s Heart of Darkness who was based upon a real missionary and explorer of Africa.  Stein’s Livingstone undergoes a transformation to take on the visage of evil, but he is also a presence that hovers over the story, like Conrad’s character.

Readers will be surprised by how much is packed into Raven Stole the Moon and by how quickly the story unravels and carries them along down river with Jenna and her compatriots.  The only possible nit-picky thing to point out is that the time line gets a bit muddled when jumping between the story of how Thunder Bay came to be and Jenna’s current journey, which could have been rectified by revealing the story of Thunder Bay as Jenna makes her way through the wilderness.  However, that is a minor complaint in an otherwise captivating, suspenseful story that readers will be hard pressed to forget when the final page is turned.

This is my 10th book for the 2010 Thriller & Suspense Reading Challenge.

  • Glad to hear you enjoyed this read! I have it on my shelves and I plan on reading it during the summer.

    • I’ll have to check your review when you finish it.

  • J.T. Oldfield

    I’ve been wanting to read this for a while. It sounds so good! I’m glad that you liked it.

    • I think you should pick it up!

  • Meg

    Glad you enjoyed this one, too! I also found it to be really suspenseful and entertaining — I read it in one (long) afternoon. I have to pick up The Art Of Racing In The Rain next!
    Meg´s last blog post ..Bring books back to Nashville

    • Art of Racing in the Rain started my love for this author!

  • Never heard of this one! I have been seeing his other book everywhere! Great review!

    • I’m glad you enjoyed the review.

  • I have to admit I am very much not a fan of Joseph Conrad, but this books sounds really interesting.
    Trisha´s last blog post ..Sunday Salon: The Awards Pages

    • Conrad is not my favorite writer either. I just happened to remember Livingstone from Heart of Darkness, which I read ages ago and don’t think I quite finished. I cannot stand his dialogue or writing style, honestly. Stein on the other hand is fantastic.

  • I am a believer in where Stein can take you, after having read The Art of Racing in the Rain. I didn’t like how hard it made me cry but I think that is my own personal problem (ha!). I don’t mind wandering timelines too much…to much of a linear story can get stale and can be forgettable. I need to make an effort to get to this one!
    Sandy´s last blog post ..Writing an Audio book review

    • I think you should. You’d enjoy it.

  • Wow, I’ve never heard of this book before but it sounds fantastic! I love books set in the northern wilderness (must be because I’m from Canada!).
    Bronwyn´s last blog post ..Because I Have Loved and Hidden It: My New Desert Island Book

    • You’ll really love this if you like a bit of the supernatural and folklore.

  • Glad to see you liked this one, Serena. I enjoyed it too, although I didn’t love it as I did Racing in the Rain. I’m eager to read more books by Stein.
    Wendy´s last blog post ..I’m a Magic Wand…

    • I’d be happy to read more Stein. I count him among one of my favorites. I think dog lovers have a particular connection with Racing.

  • blodeuedd

    I have been following all the reviews on this one, cos I did like The Art, but I got so sad by it

    • Art of Racing was sad, but I still loved it.

  • Heart of Darkness!! EEK!!! Well, I won’t hold that against the book, since it sounds really good.
    Anna´s last blog post ..Review: A Hundred Feet Over Hell by Jim Hooper

    • He plays a small part and while I see the parallels, it is not Conrad’s “crazy” prose.

  • I totally loved this one…and had no complaints whatsoever. Now I need to read Racing in the Rain! Your review was excellent and fun to read!

    • I hope you read Racing soon. I really loved that book. Thanks for the compliment.

  • This book sounds wonderful, muddled time line and all.

    • I was really being picky about that…Honestly it only bothered me for a bit, but not enough to disrupt my reading and enjoyment.