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Friday Five: School Stories [Competition]

New Releases: Going to the Moon by Lavie Tidhar

Going to the MoonGoing to the Moon (2012) is a collaboration between Lavie Tidhar and artist Paul McCaffrey. The result is a short and sweary picture book, the story of a young boy Jimmy who wants to be an astronaut and struggles with Tourette's syndrome.

Mr. Tidhar is a literary enigma. A huge portion of his writing output seems composed of pastiches and "think pieces", combining his excellent ability to mimic voices with a simmering revolutionary fervor. This is a man that gleefully corrupts genres - from the "guns and sorcery" of Gorel and the Pot-Bellied God to the alternate-alternate history of HebrewPunk's "Uganda". Even Osama is a subversion, presenting Philip Marlowe by way of Philip K. Dick and bending noir in a way that even a drunken Hammett never would've foreseen. 

Although he's the master of masks and voices, Mr. Tidhar's prodigious range seems to beg the question of where the real Lavie Tidhar might be hiding. We've read the Tidhar Chandler, the Tidhar Campbell, the Tidhar Moorcock, ad infinitum, but, to borrow a phrase from Kronk, "there's a wall there". There's no question that Osama is a breakthrough work, but, if it has any flaw, it is that, however much it is a stunning composition, there's still a sense of emotional distance. 

Going to the Moon might be another clever subversion, but, more than any other piece to date, it hints towards Mr. Tidhar's true voice. As a children's book, it doesn't provide the wiggle room of other genres or formats. Given the limited space and vocabulary, either the author's genuine emotion shines through, or it flops like a dying fish. And Going to the Moon?  It glows to fill the night sky.

Jimmy is a wonderful, open-hearted, open-minded kid. He's trying desperately to live on Earth but constantly dreaming of something beyond. His particular albatross, Tourette's, is universally identifiable and painfully empathetic. Jimmy's every waking hour is our nightmare - the one where you show up without pants (American, not British) or get trapped in the spiral of always saying the wrong thing. He's us at our least confident and most vulnerable.

And which of us hasn't had Jimmy's own dream? Not just escape but heroism - to do the impossible, go someplace completely unknown, be completely self-reliant and the envy of all. Back before the space program got kicked in the balls, that's what we all wanted, male or female, geek or jock. We wanted to be astronauts: they were physically perfect, mentally perfect, symbols of peace and progress. We grew up understanding that they were the best of the best, symbols of humanity's triumph over the impossibilities of physics. Mr. Tidhar captures not only the dragging mass of Jimmy's everyday life, but also the weightlessness of his fantasies.

Granted, even within the scope allowed, there's some Tidharian cheekiness. Superficially, this is a sweary children's book. I suppose there should be some sort of conversation that takes place before it gets passed blithely to an 8 year old. Mr. Tidhar also has a record of writing meta-fiction, and Going to the Moon is partially an ode to the escapist power of science fiction.

But to regard this slim volume as merely clever composition is to undersell it badly. Going to the Moon is a book that should be read by everyone, of any age. Mr. Tidhar reminds the reader not only of what it feels like to be small and vulnerable, but also the unfettered glory of the childhood imagination. It is ultimately a triumphant book because Jimmy takes for granted the limitless positive potential of the human race. There is a wonderful truth that is too often forgotten.


Going to the Moon is available directly from the publisher and through Amazon. If you buy through Murky Depths, 10% is donated to charity. Which is why that's linked and the other isn't. Hint hint.