Right from the start of Pack Up the Moon by Richard Teleky (Thomas Allen Publishers, $31.95, 286 pages, cloth, ISBN: 0909028462) you know this is not going to be a happy book. Richard Teleky's sophomore effort mentions two deaths on the first pagełthose of Karl Marton's (the protagonist) ex-lover and his bestfriend's son.
Things don't get much better when shortly thereafter Karl learns that his bestfriend from UniversityłCharlotte Fleuryłwas murdered nearly twenty years earlier.
The news of Charlotte's death sends Karl on a quest to unravel the life he had imagined for her in the last twenty years. Karl reaches back into his past to the beginning of their friendship to find, "the point at which Charlotte's death became inevitable." By diving back into the past, Karl must also rearrange his memories of their relationship and come to terms with why it ended.
Karl and Charlotte met in the 1960s while attending the University of Toronto. Karl, a University archivist in the United States, was at that time an American draft dodger hiding out in Canada. Charlotte came from a wealthy Catholic family. Both are representative of major social movements which developed at the timełthe gay and feminist movements. Karl also stands for the anti-Vietnam War movement, though he claims to be neither a conscientious objector nor a pacifist.
As Karl's memories paint clearer pictures of the changes in his and Charlotte's personalities, they both become less likeable with age. In their University days both Karl and Charlotte are interesting in part because they are young and feel involved with the world around them. Both are excited about life, and all it might offer. Age erodes their individuality, their opinions, beliefs and character. Charlotte goes from being strong and independent to taking orders from her husband. Embittered by middle age, Karl becomes increasingly more cold and self-absorbed.
Many of the other characters in the novel also become bitter with age or from circumstances. Karl's close friend and neighbour, Leila, is drowning herself in alcohol to get over the pain of losing her son who drowned in a camp swimming pool.
The most vital character in the book is also a stereotypełThom, the eccentric gay man with a tendency for melodrama, is left to spark life around characters who might as well not have any.
Pack Up the Moon is a coming-of-middle-age story, whose subtle evocation of the effects of time on people's emotional lives may be too subtle for the reader. Many moments in the book are infuriatingly slow, and sometimes the story veers off into unhelpful directions.
Teleky manages a beautiful and seamless intertwining of Karl's recollections of his University days with his present as Karl comes to understand about the limits of memory and the pain of loss.
One thing Teleky should be highly commended for is his capturing of the subtlety of true love that can exist between two people who are not sexually involved. Karl and Charlotte's relationship is a testament to the fact that a loving relationship doesn't have to be based on sex. Karl's love for Charlotte haunts him decades later, just as much as it would have had they been two lovers torn apart by circumstance. ņ