By Heidi Simmons
“Girl in the Moonlight”
by Charles Dubow
If you have ever been in love – head over heels in love – you are lucky. Maybe even blessed to feel something so powerful, strange and magical. But what is love? In Charles Dubow’s Girl in the Moonlight (William Morrow, 352 pages), finding love and understanding it is confusing, controlling and complicated.
The story is told by Wylie Rose, who as a boy of ten, figuratively and literally fell in love with the beautiful and beguiling Francesca “Cesca” Bonet. She and her younger siblings, Aurelio and twins Cosmo and Carmen, were climbing a tree and jumping to the roof of their house, something they did for fun. Shy Wylie, an only child, wanting to impress and please the charming 12-year-old Cesca, jumps at her encouragement. He falls and breaks his arm.
The Bonet children’s mother is from a very wealthy East Coast family so they lack for nothing. The Bonets’ father is a semi-famous, bohemian, Catalan painter who left the family to go back to Spain. He sees them when he can.
Wylie’s father, also well to do, went to an elite school with the Bonet kid’s uncle who lives on the family estate.
As Wylie grows up, he dreams of Cesca and longs for her everyday of his life. In high school, their paths cross again when his parents are invited to the Bonet’s home for a party. Cesca and her siblings remember him and embrace him as a long-time friend. Wylie is tall and handsome, which gets Cesca’s attention. She takes him for a walk and a moonlight swim, and his fantasy becomes a reality. They make love throughout the summer. And then part ways.
Over decades, the two get together, have sex and then she disappears without a word. This happens on and off, again and again. Cesca is so etched into Wylie’s mind and heart that there is no room for anyone else – there is no one who can match her beauty, charm and allure. Wylie is not the only man to fall for Cesca. In fact, no man can resist her.
Wylie’s life is shaped by his love for Cesca. Although he finds it difficult to love her, he cannot stop. She is worth all the pain and sacrifice. He asks her to marry him more than once. She trusts and confides in him, but marries another. Their love affair continues wherever they find one another in the world – be it New York, London, Paris or Spain.
When Wylie finally finds a woman he might love more than Cesca, he must choose. But he is not sure if he can because he does not know what love really is.
This story begins in the 70s encompassing a rich and detailed world that brings the reader to the present time. The Bonets are smart and talented kids. Good at everything they do. Aurelio is an artist and inspires Wylie to be a painter. Wylie loves to paint, but gives it up to earn a living. I enjoyed the discussions and debate about pursuing something you love – whether it is art or a person.
I got caught up in the first-person narrative immediately. I was charmed by the soft-spoken Wylie, the charismatic Bonet family and the entire colorful cast of characters.
Author Dubow shows us the workings of Wylie’s heart and head. Dubow gives the reader insight to how one’s intellect cannot compete with the désirs du coeur.
In one way, Cesca is cursed. Indeed she uses up men and spits them out, but they come at her with such intensity, she cannot escape. They want to own her. This is part of Wylie’s undying love for her. He believes in her and is willing to let her be wild and free. He admires her bravery, respects her freedom, and is in awe of her power.
Wylie forces himself to try and understand the different forms of love. He longs to know his weakness for and fascination with Cesca. He wonders why he continues to endure the emotional torture. Somehow, he believes she is his destiny. It is this love and dedication that Cesca cannot resist.
I appreciated Dubow’s insight and observations of Wylie’s unconcealed passion and quiet desperation to love Cesca so fully. Embedded with art, wealth and exotic locations, Girl in the Moonlight is not a silly love story. It has depth and sincerity. It is about one man’s greatest love whether he understands it or not.