When Julie skips school and sets off with her best friend and some local boys for a camping trip in the desert, she finds herself the target of unwanted, drug-fueled sexual attention. Running away in fear, she takes a dangerous fall down the shaft of a vast underground cave, and it takes two days for her to be rescued. Lying unconscious in her hospital bed, Julie hovers between life and death as she travels in a seductive parallel universe inspired by remarkable cave paintings left behind by prehistoric humans.
Marko, her attacker, tries to cover his tracks, menacing those who know what happened in the desert that night. Jamal, the youngest son in a family of Iraqi refugees living in Julie's small town, is one of his prime targets. He defies Marko, keeping him away from Julie's bedside and refusing to fall prey to his threats of violence.
Meanwhile, Marissa, who gave Julie up for adoption 15 years earlier when she became pregnant as an adolescent, is following an instinct that leads her back to the daughter she once abandoned. With the aid of Jamal and a local Native American hitman/shaman, she attempts to draw Julie back to consciousness.
Madison Smartt Bell is best known for his trilogy of novels about Toussaint Louverture and the Haitian Revolution, including All Souls' Rising, which was a finalist for the National Book Award and the PEN/Faulkner Award. He is the author of numerous books of fiction and nonfiction, and Professor of English at Goucher College.
Praise for Behind the Moon:
"Madison Smartt Bell writes with the urgency of someone who just received a dire prognosis. And Behind the Moon will remind you that you are alive."—Jonathan Safran Foer, author of Here I Am
"Behind the Moon would have caught my attention simply because it was written by Madison Smartt Bell—a writer whose voice I always trust. I would have expected another precise detailed chronicle like All Souls Rising, one of my favorite novels. But this is not at all the voice I know—this is a unique and startling descent into a completely different kind of narrative. Yes, a fever dream but couched in the voice of a deft and careful writer who knows how to steer us into the lives of characters in trouble. We shift from the feverish imagination of Julie in her hospital bed to the plainly matter-of-fact accounts of the boys who chased her into the cave where she slipped and fell into a dream of cave paintings and the all too close terror of a black-headed bear. Between fever dreams and stone hard reality, Madison Smartt Bell has crafted a powerful examination of what is and what might be. It is simply wonderful."—Dorothy Allison, author of Bastard out of Carolina
"This new novel by Madison Smartt Bell is disarmingly good. The patience, the deliberate strokes, the understated tension and the inevitability of it all is pure Bell and yet he shows up here with a completely different voice. I love these characters. I love the writing. Behind the Moon is a brilliant work."—Percival Everett, author of Half an Inch of Water
"Bell gives us this fast-paced, spiritually inspired dream-story, full of heart and hope and danger. It's adventure at its finest: a spiked drink, a desert cave, a gunshot, a mother looking for her child. Buckle in: you are headed for a terrific ride."—Deb Olin Unferth, author of Wait Till You See Me Dance
"Behind The Moon is a visceral, full body primal experience; terrifying, seductive, Madison Smart Bell at his best."—A.M. Homes, author of May We Be Forgiven
"Behind the Moon is a thrilling and uncannily powerful story by one of the best living American fiction writers. I couldn't put it down."—John McManus, author of Fox Tooth Heart
"Madison Smartt Bell is one of the great American masters. His prose scintillates with particularity and hints at divinity. I read Behind the Moon in one sitting and was moved by Julie's inchoate spiritual longing as well as her mother Marissa's primal drive. This book has a pre-religous power, read it and be inspired."—Darcey Steinke, author of Sister Golden Hair: A Novel
"With spare but lyrical prose, Madison Smartt Bell tells a harrowing story with propulsive drama. A haunting and hypnotic read."—Heidi W. Durrow, author of The Girl Who Fell From the Sky
"Madison Smartt Bell's Behind the Moon is a fever dream, indeed. Modern medicine has conceived no antidote for such an atmospheric, rewarding entanglement of lyrical genius. Mr. Bell writes like a scrimshaw's angel, as he's been doing, luckily for us, nigh four decades."—George Singleton, author of Calloustown
"In his latest work, Madison Smartt Bell secures his position as one of the country's most innovative, inventive and accomplished writers. Part horror story, part dream, part meditation, Behind The Moon creates its own meta-Gothic catagory. The story turns the usual teenaged drama of sex and drugs on its head and then spins it into a four-dimensional God's eye woven with mystical, spiritual and maternal threads. From the heart-racing opening to the eye-opening end, you won't be able to put this book down." —Jessica Anya Blau, author of The Trouble with Lexie
"Madison Smartt Bell is a master of structure with tremendous range, which is on full display in Behind the Moon. This cinematic novel is a rare combination of smart literary novel and compelling page-turner, at once menacing and sweeping, dark and transportive, eloquent and hallucinatory."—Michael Kimball, author of Big Ray
"Taking readers to places both spiritual and shot through with adventure, Madison Smartt Bell's new novel renders the many ways in which longing can take form, with both disastrous and redemptive consequences."—Chantel Acevedo, author of The Distant Marvels
"This latest from National Book Award finalist Bell (after Zig Zag Wanderer) is the story of an illicit teenage camping trip gone awry. . . . Multiple versions and perspectives are pervasive and illustrate the dream space and the story, culminating in a perfect matchup of beginning and ending."—Starred review, Library Journal
"Bell, bewitching and incandescently imaginative, masterfully parallels Marissa and Jamal's heart-pounding encounters with mayhem and mystery . . . [a] mind-twisting drama . . ."—Donna Seaman, Booklist
"In Bell's latest novel, a girl named Julie, fleeing from a violent sexual encounter in the desert, tumbles into a cave and falls into a fever dream inspired by ancient drawings on the cave walls. . . . [A ] powerful, mind-bending work."—Publishers Weekly
"From Bell (The Color of Night, 2011, etc.), a novel about a young woman finding her way back aboveground both literally and metaphorically after a misadventure beneath the surface of things. . . . lyrical, ambitious, and well worth reading."—Kirkus Review
"Behind the Moon is an astounding achievement, to be read with an equally astounding freedom. . . . through and through a magical encounter and a novel of mystery, but then what should one expect being taken there behind the moon, that emblem in the sky of love, of unknown loneliness, and uneasy inaccessibility?"—Linda Chown, Numerocinqmagazine
"Madison Smartt Bell is one of those novelists who slip the net of classification. . . . lately he’s ventured into the American West, for The Color of Night (2011), a goosepimpler about a former Manson cultist, and for his eerie and peculiar novel Behind the Moon."—Sam Sacks on the "Best New Fiction: Literary thrillers by Madison Smartt Bell and others," Wall Street Journal