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The Half Moon


The Half Moon

Following the highly acclaimed release of ASK AGAIN, YES, Mary Beth Keane makes a triumphant return with THE HALF MOON, a cerebral and evocative portrait of a marriage on the rocks, dreams unmet and the potential within each of us to find happiness. Taking place over one snowy week in a predominantly Irish Catholic neighborhood, the book is a combination of small, meaningful moments much greater than the sum of their parts.

Malcolm Gephardt and his wife, Jess, are like the prom king and queen of their small town of Gillam, New York. The owner of the Half Moon, a bar where “the music is good, people are running into friends, and the whole place is cozy despite the bone-cold world outside,” Malcolm is a charming everyman, the kind of guy who can keep a secret, end a feud and still settle up your tab when the night is over. Jess is a lawyer who maintains a level of accessibility and likability because Malcolm, Gillam’s golden boy, chose her. But somehow, despite their 20 years together and Malcolm’s almost 30 years of working in and/or owning the Half Moon, everything is falling apart. And no one is sure why.

"Depending on your life experiences thus far, you will find Keane’s takeaways either groundbreaking or validating, but you will never find them boring or without nuance."

Having worked behind the bar of the Half Moon for two decades, Malcolm always knew that he would buy the business from its no-nonsense yet still approachable owner, Hugh. Similarly, ever since two lines appeared on a pregnancy test when she and Malcolm were just boyfriend and girlfriend, Jess has known that she wants to be a mother. Although she miscarried their first pregnancy, the dream pushed them together.

But when they decide to try again after nearly seven years of marriage, their timed, unsexy couplings, fertility drugs, fights with insurance and draining hormone treatments have torn them apart. To add to their financial and familial woes, the bar that Malcolm bought on a handshake deal has not thrived as they’d hoped. He has used charm to skate by on late bills, but his luck is drying up, and it is clear to everyone that the Half Moon is in the red. That is when Jess leaves for a friend in New York, their marriage unable to bear the weight of their separate and shared crushed dreams.

It has been 17 weeks since Jess departed, and time is passing almost like a dream. Malcolm sticks to his routine, and the bar has some great nights. But when he enters his second home on the night before a major storm, his best friends deliver a crushing blow: Jess has returned to Gillam --- not to the home they built, but to the home of Neil, a new neighbor who arrived there divorced but with three children, a ready-made family perfect for a woman desperate to become a mother. There is little time to dwell, so he goes about his night, hoping to turn a profit before the bar inevitably has to close for the storm. A fight breaks out between a regular and a smarmy twenty-something, but the Half Moon has weathered fights before. And besides, Malcolm has always been able to calm and charm a crowd.

However, when the snow arrives and Malcolm’s routine is halted, the sickening reality of his situation is unignorable: Jess is gone, their marriage is likely over, and Hugh’s cronies have not stopped popping up at inopportune moments. They want to make sure that Malcolm knows that Hugh is always watching and waiting for his money to return to him, with interest. There is a crackling tension in the air, and he recognizes that something is about to snap. But whether it's him, Jess, the Half Moon or Hugh, he can’t be sure. By week’s end another storm will hit, and the pressure cooker of their lives in Gillam will burst. It will leave Malcolm and Jess with an impossible choice: fix what is broken, or burn it all down and re-emerge from the ashes.

Ostensibly a book about a marriage in disrepair, THE HALF MOON is a love story come undone, but it is also a portrait of a town. While Malcolm and Jess are Keane’s main characters, she does a capable job of building up the town around them and populating it with recognizable but fully drawn individuals --- from the women who flock to Malcolm at closing time to the nosy but well-meaning friends who zero in on Malcolm and Jess’ crumbling marriage to support them, but also to gossip. Because Gillam is a blue-collar town on the outskirts of a booming metropolis, Keane is able to weave in themes of privilege and socioeconomic class while still keeping the narrative tight and contemplative.

As Malcolm and Jess recover separately from the fallout of their marriage and the potential of their reconciliation, Keane excels at inviting readers into their internal deliberations and musings, which are transcendent and gorgeously written. Each one is able to convert a huge, universal truth or feeling into an eerily prescient moment or observation. Depending on your life experiences thus far, you will find Keane’s takeaways either groundbreaking or validating, but you will never find them boring or without nuance. As always, her talent for distilling deeply personal reflections into crystalline prose is without parallel. Although her findings here are perhaps less earth-shattering than those of ASK AGAIN, YES, they are no less luminous or consuming.

A meditative novel about the demise and rebirth of love stories, dreams and ambitions, THE HALF MOON is a deliberative, empathetic and deeply satisfying story perfect for readers of Keane’s backlist and books like Abbie Greaves’ THE SILENT TREATMENT and John Jay Osborn’s LISTEN TO THE MARRIAGE.

Reviewed by Rebecca Munro on May 5, 2023

The Half Moon
by Mary Beth Keane

  • Publication Date: April 2, 2024
  • Genres: Fiction
  • Paperback: 320 pages
  • Publisher: Scribner
  • ISBN-10: 1982172614
  • ISBN-13: 9781982172619