Friday, August 10, 2012

Moon-Face by Jack London

One of London’s best collections overall
Of the many short story collections Jack London published during his life time, Moon-Face, first published in 1906, is one of the best. London’s two favorite topics—the Klondike gold rush and South Pacific sailing—are absent from this book. Though those two categories represent the work for which London is most famous, during his prolific career he experimented with a broad range of subject matter and literary styles. Often this produced mixed results, but the stories collected in Moon-Face are for the most part very successful.

“Moon-Face,” the story for which the collection is named, explores the psychology of a murderer in a sort of humorous take on Edgar Allen Poe. In “The Shadow and the Flash,” an excellent science fiction story, two rival scientists race to discover the secret of invisibility. “The Minions of Midas” is an audacious tale of terrorism that’s years ahead of its time. The closing piece, “Planchette,” is a longer work that could be considered a novella. The title refers to a device similar to a Ouija board, through which two young lovers discover that a supernatural force is bent on destroying their happiness. It’s a skillfully paced and quite suspenseful horror tale, unfortunately marred by the fact that London chose to leave one very important question left unanswered.

The one true wilderness adventure story in the book, “All Gold Canyon,” is one of London’s absolute best. A prospector discovers an idyllic canyon in the Sierra Nevada and commences a methodical search for gold. This piece contains some of London’s most beautiful naturalistic writing ever, with stunning descriptions of the natural world and a detailed nuts-and-bolts description of the process of gold mining. The narrative then accelerates into an edge-of-your-seat thriller. It is an artfully crafted masterpiece from start to finish.

Not every one of these eight stories is a total gem. There are a couple clunkers in this collection, namely “Local Color” and “Amateur Night,” but they’re not offensively bad, just moderately flawed. The joy of reading these stories for the first time is you never know what unexpected turn London’s going to take next. Horror, sci-fi, romance, adventure, humor, suspense—London tackles them all. That unpredictability, along with the inclusion of the classic stories mentioned above, makes Moon-Face a collection greater than the mere sum of its parts.

Stories in this collection
The Leopard Man’s Story 
Local Color 
Amateur Night 
The Minions of Midas 
The Shadow and the Flash 
All Gold Canyon 

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