Cliff is forty-six-year-old man with cerebral palsy who lives in an assisted living facility in the Midwest. Dysphagia prevents him from being able to swallow, so he is fed through a tube, but—unlike the other members of the home—he has no intellectual disability, and therefore resents being lumped in with the other residents as they are led to clap their way through nursery rhymes and watch interminable game shows on television. To turn the well-known phrase on its head, this would all be tragic if it weren’t so funny. Josh Cook imbues the text of ANOTHER CRESCENT MOON with gallows humor, and exhibits an almost Douglas Adams-esque delight in lampooning the peculiar preoccupations and trappings of television and the media. Dog-whistling politicians get a kicking, as do believers—and even atheists, who push their points with “logic, facts, reason, and snark.” Cliff obviously watches Matt Dillahunty.
Except, of course, that he doesn’t. Cliff is the very model of an unreliable narrator, with an altogether too acute sense of the world for a man in middle age who gets most of his kicks waiting for the hotel chain advertisement with the beautiful, dark-haired woman to appear on the TV screen. The obvious comparison is with the Chief in Ken Kesey’s One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest, but it is not Cliff’s sanity that is in question, though goodness knows it is tested. Author Cook spares the reader nothing—not the casual infantilization by both well-meaning and apathetic staff members; not the tales of physical, sexual, and psychological abuse at the infamous Sinai Grove facility; and not the ever-present frustration at having one’s hopes and ambitions constantly thwarted by his personal circumstances. This mixture is leavened by farce: an erect resident running naked through the house to get it on with his mattress; feces flung with abandon; residents making their opinions known by farting.
It takes a while for the focus of the novel to become apparent. Ayodele, or Ayo for short, is a newly arrived immigrant, and has an unconventional way of dealing with residents: one that involves giving them freedoms that were long since abandoned by his fellow carers as unworkable or too risky. Given that Cliff is non-verbal, what really comes into focus in all of Ayo’s talks with Cliff is the multi-faceted nature of communication. Thoughtful questions combine with a collection of tics, hand gestures, and tilts of the head to provide as lively a conversation as could be hoped for, as well as a trenchant comment on the centrality of the carer-patient relationship to lifelong care. It is a remarkable achievement, though one sometimes gets the sense that the narrative is trying to do too much: the Trumpy politician who attacks the woke and uses the r-word to refer to disabled people as though it were a weapon, the CEO who believes himself to be politically correct, only to put his foot in it repeatedly when actually challenged on his beliefs (of course Ayo would be a fountain of knowledge about Kwanzaa!), and Cliff’s would-be girlfriend Stella, who may or may not be serious about him, etc. The effort involved in keeping all these plates spinning threatens to derail the narrative at times. But Cook just about manages to keep them aloft, and what is left is an absorbing, entertaining novel that deserves a wider audience.
By turns funny, harrowing, and touching, Josh Cook’s ANOTHER CRESCENT MOON is a thought-provoking tale about disability and the nature of personal freedoms.
~Craig Jones for IndieReader