Read The Moonlight Man Online

Authors: Paula Fox

The Moonlight Man






Winner of the Hans Christian Andersen Award

Winner of the
Paris Review's
Hadada Award

“The greatest writer of her generation.” —Jonathan Franzen

“One of America's most talented writers.”
—Publishers Weekly

“Consistently excellent.”
—The New York Times

“Fox has always been adept at writing apparently simple stories which on closer examination prove to explore the essential meaning of relationships … and to illuminate our understanding of the human condition.”
—School Library Journal

“Paula Fox is so good a novelist that one wants to go out in the street to hustle up a big audience for her.… Fox's brilliance has a masochistic aspect: I will do this so well, she seems to say, that you will hardly be able to read it. And so she does, and so do I.” —Peter S. Prescott,

“Fox is one of the most attractive writers to come our way in a long, long time.” —
The New Yorker

“As a writer, Fox is all sensitive, staring eyeball. Her images break the flesh. They scratch the retina … Fox's prose hurts.” —Walter Kirn,
New York

“Fox's achievement is to write with magnificent restraint and precision about the interplay of personal and historical, inner growth and outer framework, the process of learning to think about oneself and the world.” —Margaret and Michael Rustin

“Fox has little of Roth's self-consciousness, less of Bellow's self-importance, and none of Updike's self-pity. Unlike all three men, Fox does not jealously save the best lines for a favoured alter ego, and her protagonists do not have a monopoly on nuance. Instead, she distributes her formidable acumen unselfishly, so that even the most minor characters can suddenly offer crucial insight, and unsympathetic characters are often the most fascinating: brilliant, unfathomable and raging.” —Sarah Churchwell

“There are no careless moves in the fiction of Paula Fox.… [Her] work has a purity of vision, and a technique undiminished by
or self-indulgence.” —Randal Churb,
The Boston Review

“Paula Fox is as good as her revived reputation suggests.” —Fiona Maazel,

The Moonlight Man

ALA Notable Children's Book

Booklist Editors' Choice

School Library Journal Best Book of the Year

An NCTE Teachers' Choice Notable Children's Trade Book

“Stunningly written.”
—Kirkus Reviews

“There's been little in young adult fiction with this kind of plain intensity.… Miss Fox writes with wit and candor about painful change and growth. Her language is exquisitely controlled, reaching for meaning in the patterns and pauses of ordinary conversation, often in words of one syllable.”
—The New York Times Book Review

“A cause for celebration … Fox's subtle use of language and unique storytelling gifts create a world so complete and so rich that the reader hates to leave it. At one point, Catherine reflects that her father ‘seemed about to lead her into a dance to music she had never heard.' This story, too, is music as we only rarely hear it.”
—Publishers Weekly

The Moonlight Man

Paula Fox

For Martin


The sound of a flute awakened Catherine Ames. She went from her bed and knelt on the window seat's worn cushion. Her face close to the rusted screen, she listened intently, wondering who it was who walked, playing music, along the narrow street below. But as the music grew fainter, the question that plagued her days rose in her mind. It was like a pain from which only an odd event—a flute played in the middle of the night—could distract her.

Where was he? Where was her father?

She heard a distant flutter of notes; someone banged a window shut. She saw how a strand of moonlight touching the fingers of her hand outspread upon the sill made them ghostly. She felt like a ghost, like nobody's child.

Through no intention of her own, Catherine overstayed the spring semester at the Dalraida Boarding and Day School by three weeks. The large wood and stone house, which looked from the outside much like the other nineteenth-century mansions in the old Montreal residential neighborhood between Sherbrooke and Ste. Catherine streets, didn't seem like a school since the other seventeen boarding students and eleven day students had left for their summer vacations.

If only that flute player had gone down some other street! She might have slept through the night. It was hard enough to get through the days trying not to look out the window for the postman, trying not to listen constantly for the telephone to ring.

Harry Ames was supposed to have come for her at the end of school and take her back to Rockport, Massachusetts, where he lived with his wife, Emma, and where Catherine was going to spend seven weeks with him, their first long time together since he and her mother had been divorced when she was three years old.

Mr. Ames had not arrived on June 7 when he was expected, nor on the next day or the next. Madame Soule, the director of the school, had telephoned Mr. Ames's Rockport number. Catherine, standing next to Madame, heard the operator say the phone had been temporarily disconnected.

“What am I to do with you, my girl?” Madame had asked, the sympathy in her voice making Catherine even more miserable than she had been on that morning she waited for her father in the school entrance hall, her packed suitcase beside her.

“I think I must send a telegram to your mother,” Madame said resolutely. Catherine, trying to be calm, trying not to plead, had persuaded Madame to wait. Her father, she explained carefully, was always late, even for those short visits, themselves so infrequent, which had been their only contact over the last twelve years. She did not tell Madame there had been other occasions when he hadn't turned up at all. But those times had involved the loss of an hour or two with him—not seven weeks. His unexplained absence now was so serious, it made Catherine feel giddy, as though she might faint even as she explained it. What kept her on her feet, kept her from throwing herself into Madame's arms and asking for comfort, was a dogged insistence in herself that he would come.

“I am aware your father is not entirely reliable,” Madame Soule had said, “but I am obliged to let your mother know you are still here. It is her right, after all. She did leave you a hotel address in England for emergencies. I think
is an emergency, Catherine.”

“Not yet,” Catherine replied quickly. “You don't know my father.”

“But I do know him. I met him before you came to our school. I saw that he was charming, likable. But—” She broke off and shook her head as though in disagreement with some thought she was having. “What if something has happened? His wife might be sick. Anything can happen.”

“Someone would let us know,” Catherine insisted. “And you don't really know him. But my mother does. She wouldn't think this was an emergency.”

Madame scowled ever so slightly. Catherine then told a lie. “Anyhow, Mom isn't at that hotel in Windemere. She and my stepfather went to the Orkneys. She wouldn't get the telegram.”

She watched Madame Soule's face intently. If her mother, who wasn't going to the Orkneys until the early part of July, learned Mr. Ames hadn't come to get Catherine, she would fly home to the rescue. And she would never forgive him. Catherine wouldn't be given a chance t spend such a long time with her father until she was old enough to do as she wished.

Madame Soule sighed. “I am sure your mother left a forwarding address in Windemere, too,” she said gently. “But—all right, then. We'll give him a few more days.”

Triumphant and ashamed, Catherine had gone to her room and unpacked her suitcase. The same day she wrote to her mother in Windemere, telling her she had decided to spend a couple of weeks with a good friend in Toronto before going to her father's in Rockport. It occurred to her that her mother wouldn't believe that—couldn't believe Catherine would give up a moment with her father. What she was counting on was that her mother, only recently married to Carter Beade, had a lot else on her mind. She wrote to the Dalraida student, Betty Jane Rich in Toronto, telling her to keep any letters that might arrive from her mother—she'd explain why in September when school started.

It had all been dreadful, explaining what she didn't understand herself, excusing what she knew to be inexcusable, covering up to gain a few days, and always with her father's unanswering silence. But how much worse to have dragged her mother back at the beginning of her long-delayed honeymoon; how much worse to watch Carter do his I-am-a-patient-wonderful-superior-step-father routine!

Wasn't it possible that her father had changed his mind at the last minute, and instead of sending his wife off to Virginia alone to visit her family, had gone with her? But even if Catherine had known Emma's maiden name and where her family lived, she wouldn't have told Madame or tried to track down her father among his in-laws.

Her labors had been in vain; she had tried to freeze everyone as though she'd been
in a game of Red Light where each player had to stand still until she stopped looking at him.

The game was over. Madame had said she must wire Catherine's mother. Madame and her husband were leaving for Dijon, France, in a week. Madame LeSueur, the history instructor, and the only teacher still in the house, was going to Rome the next evening. Even the small housekeeping staff was going on vacation. The school would be closed, empty, until the end of August. In September, everyone would know Catherine had been left stranded in school.

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