Why I Named My Novel The Whole of the Moon
When I first watched Showtime’s The Affair, I thought Sarah Treem and company got it just right. The alternating points of view, about as literary of a device as you will find, demonstrate that experience depends on perspective. We can never really be sure if our truth is the truth. Four people stand on four street corners and witness an accident, and you know you’ll get four versions of what happened.
Setting out to write my novel, I knew that I wanted to tell six different stories (six felt about right). The storylines would span sixty years, and the hitch was that the characters, despite their geographic proximity, would never meet. In other words, our expectations are that eventually they would cross paths. That they never do is frustrating from one point of view (isn’t it a narrative necessity that they should interact) and satisfying from another (every day we are connected to others but never know it, in this case by a shared library copy of Fitzgerald’s The Great Gatsby).
Some readers, I am certain, believed I had six different short stories on hand and cobbled them together in a makeshift novel. This is not the case. I mapped out each of the storylines, a few more successfully than others, and wrote them concurrently. All the while I had no title. Certain narratives spring first from the title, words jotted down in a notebook or scrawled on an overpass. For a long time I had “Winter’s Bark” in my back pocket. Winter’s Bark is a tree native to the rain forest, believed to have medicinal properties. It also sounds very ominous. To this day that is all I have. With what would become Moon, I kept waiting for the title to emerge. Surely it would. Sixty thousand words can’t be wrong. I completed the manuscript and held out for that phrase or Biblical allusion or whatever to knit together the narratives. Alas, no Danny Boyle millions dropped from the sky.
I eventually settled on The Whole of the Moon, a title I still don’t fully love for a variety of reasons. The title comes from Felicity’s storyline. All novels are in a manner autobiographical, and while I have never been a twenty-year old woman who suddenly finds herself pregnant while caring for her deadbeat mother, Felicity and I share something in common: we both vividly recall what music is playing at critical moments of our lives. For Felicity she drops in a cassette recording (cassettes, remember those) of The Waterboys’ song just as she decides to abandon her child and flee California. The lyrics speak to a guiding principle I had in mind when composing the novel: we want big moments in our lives, but doing so means sacrificing the well-being of those who depend on us. At least from my reading of the song, there is a hint of that in Mike Scott’s lyrics. Some see the “crescent,” others see “the whole of the moon.” Who knows? Maybe I am botching up my words to fit Ophelia’s mad songs, but that’s my take anyway.
I first heard the song when I was in college. This Is the Sea is a fine, fine album, and my friend Dave had a copy. From my recollection (my perspective, my truth) “The Whole of the Moon” is also the one Waterboys’ song that got consistent radio play. Flash forward decades later and my occasionally claustrophobic and domestic novel resides beneath the umbrella of the moon. I should note that more than one person, when I told them the title, thought that I was saying, The Hole of the Moon, which I think kinda works as well.
So back to The Affair. After being a diligent streamer of the first two seasons, I was in and out for the next two (not out of any animus, just life getting in the way), and was admittedly oblivious to the existence of season five. Then a few days ago I caught about the last thirty minutes of what was obviously the series finale. You can imagine my surprise when the show closed over a cover of The Waterboys’ “The Whole of the Moon.” Because I had missed the front part of the episode, I did not fully appreciate all that went into an aged Noah’s dancing at the edge of the world, and at first I thought the version was by Jacqui Sharkey (released about a year or so ago). But of course it was Fiona Apple! Her singing (“Container” officially) accompanies The Affair’s title sequence, a voice so haunting I can barely listen to it, and who better to close up shop than the person who invites us in.
I have since watched the episode in its entirety, multiple times, in fact. I have a Hornby-like obsession with Apple’s version. Finales are finicky, or so it seems to me, and like you I always feel a little sad when a show heads over the horizon. Naturally I’ll go back now and watch all of Season Five, even though I know where the show will end. That’s okay. The Affair is lovingly plotty, but it is a character study as well, and I have learned from experience that the characters often say or do the satisfying thing. Besides, Maura Tierney is some serious glue.
As for The Waterboys, they live on. I have never seen them live. They came to Orange County last month, and I bought tickets, thinking, At last, the Waterboys! Then I got sick and could not go. That too makes me a little sad. They gave me the title to my novel, and I should have been duty bound to see them, fever or no.
I mentioned that I have never been fully satisfied with my decision to title the novel The Whole of the Moon, not the least of which is that two others share the same name. How I missed this, I don’t know (I gather Google hid the results from me!). The title also feels plagiaristic. But no other moniker came calling, and so there you have it – a song I carried around for years, a novel that was rendered in a relatively short time frame. I wrote much of it in the middle of the night. Medicine I was taking gave me insomnia, and I wrote roughly between the hours of three and five in the morning. On some of those nights there would have been a full moon, others only slivers and parts, and still others darkness. I live near the ocean and often the fog occludes what the night sky looks like. You could say that the money shot here is the night sky, but maybe it is the fog, or maybe a sleepless writer sitting in a chair he bought twenty years earlier. It all depends on who’s doing the looking.