Andrey Bitov, Russian writer, Moscow Foreword to a psychological thriller with a philosophical slant The Moon Boy, 2005
Writers always write about the past, even if the past refers to the past seconds. Nonetheless “The Moon Boy” is brought into step with the present. Depicting the instantaneity of the current events on paper is incredibly hard, almost impossible. Did the author set up such a mission for himself? Probably not. In “The Moon Boy”, Alexander Korotko neglects many conventionalities as for literary techniques and rules. I am going to start with the genre. Shortly after having read the text I decided to classify it as a story. Then I started thinking that was rather a novel. Neither variant was right. Both story and novel? I suppose the genre is a kind of transformer, that gets the required distinctiveness as the plot is unraveling and the conflict is developing from inside. That’s what happens in real life. But artistic reality in “The Moon Boy” is much more significant than the material reality. The transformer enables the author and his literary invention, the moon boy, who is hanging above the abysm of dream and waiting for the salvational wakening, to move from the beginning to the end without disturbing the people alive, the people awake. No doubt the prosaic composition was written by a poet. This is proved by the following lines as well as the title itself “I opened my eyes. A huge sexless creature named Morning was treading on my heels and whining”. Only a poet with his targeted and precise vision is able to cope with the lonely souls of the participants in this dramatic story, including journalists, businessmen and, apparently, politicians.
How was the idea realized? By means of short binding layers of poetic images, each of them representing psychological state of the time span, expressed as the author’s perception of himself in it. Time flows between the stones of seemingly meaningless dialogues, eventually everything comes to the end: death – life, death – life… One of fundamental processes was depicted precisely – formation of woman’s character in extreme and at the same time sticky situation of living and surviving amid the sharks or, more likely, average fishes of business, which is quite a tedious and hazardous work, almost disdained by the heroine and the author himself. By the way, prose written by a man on behalf of a woman is a rare phenomenon in modern literature, being of great curiosity for readers. Temptation, that’s what a human faces now, temptation of money, power. That’s what heroes of American novels went through in the course of capitalism formation in the 19th and the beginning of the 20th century. Can they get out of the game with clear conscience? Alas, very few of them. Death catches those who forgot the parable of Joseph and his brothers. The main hero stakes on the love, or more truly, his beloved, not knowing she has done the same, but without escaping from unshakable beliefs. Otherwise… Otherwise it leads to “the profession of the favored and privileged – the profession of being lonely”. What an exact observation! The profession of being lonely is what the novel starts with – lives of some persons, and what the novel is ended with – death of others. Right words have not been found yet, while loneliness feels already like a lump in throat, so staying speechless is impossible. So, after the words have been said so loud that you could be killed for them, a pay-off comes – a disappointing, relaxing, squandering pay-off, but torturous and sweet, for it brings salvation – “claims are abandoned, your fair name is restored …” Nothing is as boring as fair name! – exclaims a roulette or poker player … He was waiting for satisfaction, Pushkinian duel, has almost reached the eternal life. But “that was not dream, that was death, similar to the one at the “Square” by Malevich. Death, that does not live long. It woke up, took me by the scruff of my neck and forced me to the street”. It should be mentioned, that both separate words and whole phrases in the prose by Korotko are good, breath is not deep enough yet, it lives only in the plot, in its offscreen idea, but the work is a success, sleep-walker went along the verge of the roof and did not fall down. Sexless persons have eventually got the distinctiveness and the speech of real heroes, surrealism became irrelevant, and reality gave it away – she wanted to experiment on humans.
But it is surrealism that makes a rescue, for the moon boy unalterably dies on the days of moon gravitation, if reality is accepted seriously. He is dissolved in the text, he walks with his eyes closed, he is a sleepwalking time, balancing on the edge of either sponsored materials, or contract murders, or special presents in the form of deputy editor position or ninety percent of shares. Madness of time is expressed by Korotko in a metempiric way, while intellect and consciousness are gained only through efforts of will over yourself – you should break down the dream to wake up for real. To wake up and to face the procurator – editor-in-chief, representing both destructive and creative forces. However it is scary that not everything depends on you. Your texts are corrected, undersigned with someone else’s name, money, place and position are brought and taken, and only the moonlight is such a powerful salvation, that death of a close person is not shocking. What a humanity we are! To the madness of the brave, we sing this glory and die after our names were changed and our texts lost a single paragraph. In fact, businessmen from “The Moon Boy” are humans of a transition period, who want to sleep, to love, to intrigue and, finally, to simply die, as they all come from the socialistic land of Nod, where they felt comfortable, while here they should sell their business after long torments, fracases, altercations, business meetings and huddles, ‘cause their bones are not hard enough, breakable after standstill, creak like batten ends at houses of old-world landowners in books by Gogol, like Stolz and Oblomov sitting on one sofa.
Money in this story represents some self-sufficient force, it is like air for those, who are successful in business, blase, intelligent, it is unnoticeable if someone has it. But those who don’t, instinctively hold its quietness and simplicity. And here comes the moment you are offered it. And it feels right, because dignity brings money for patience and for what you do basing on your talent and not to back-breaking labor or commercial efforts. Intellectuals are unable and moreover they should not play by the rules of those, who make use of it, who want to privatize their thoughts, feelings, talents. In such cases intellectuals always lose, ‘cause their home phone numbers are changed without their knowledge, they are left jobless or declared bankrupt. As soon as they come back to their social niche and do their own jobs, everything also gets back. Dignity and pride – that’s what helps us live at all times. An intellectual who is successful in dirty commerce is suspicious. In reality, he is either not an intellectual or the intellectual was killed by a blackhearted businessman at the first fight of conscience and deceit. In “The Moon Boy” this is, apparently, the main idea, which lies above or inside the context in real works. Korotko is afraid for “human truths”, which one day may become more dreadful than the ones of animals. “We won. We were won” – that’s the conclusion, the payment for ambitious dreams of carrier, not typical of conscientious individuals.
The ending of the book seems naïve – so incredibly ideal is the videotaped explanation by the husband. But let us believe Alexander Korotko, he is entitled to such a final. Only the character’s death is imperfect. If the book would have been written by some prosperous female writer of detective stories, than he would have not died, if this would have been a fantasy story, he would have risen indeed. But here is what we have … Lately there have been a lot of arguments about the death of literature, collapse of modern novel. Literary works are called either commercial, or opportunistic, or written for big magazines or for this or that prize … Those are just idle talk. Literature lives in accordance with its own rules. Freedom and unlimited living space for a creative person are undeniable. The prose by Alexander Koroko is interesting due to its being beyond any genres. It refutes all talks about the death of literature as of civilization or culture.more
PrefaceHillary Shears, translator and poet. December 2019, London