Mixing absurdist flights of fancy with poignant memories of a time that was never as innocent as we pretend, Mike Palecek has crafted a free-wheeling novel of the adventures of Johnny Moon, a young Catholic boy who strives to live up to the idealistic credo of his hero President John F. Kennedy: “A strong boy makes a strong man makes a strong nation.” A chubby, pants-wetting target for bullies and strict authority figures, Johnny chants this mantra while walking to school to lose weight, struggling to complete a push-up or stoically coping with everything from icy puddles to attacking S.W.A.T. teams.
When his hero is suddenly gone, Johnny finds himself the unlikely leader of a league of truth-seekers made up of classmates, nuns (who just might really be space aliens), and the coach and janitor (who just might believe that the school boiler is a time-travel machine – and they just might be right). Through darkly hilarious twists and turns, intriguing mysteries and downright oddball WTFs, Palecek leads us into the JFK conspiracy, anti-communist paranoia, and the myriad eccentricities of Church and State. And, as in all of the writings of this Dali-Vonnegut-Chomsky conglomeration of a novelist/activist, the path by which he leads us is unlike anything we could imagine.
But beyond the surrealistic wildness that always marks a Palecek romp, what’s truly best in this novel is its profound empathy. We fall for Johnny Moon because we are Johnny Moon. Palecek remembers details of our childhood that we’ve long forgotten, and when we see (and feel, taste and smell) these minutiae of adolescence being lived by Johnny Moon we wonder how he was able to get into our heads and hearts unnoticed. In this most-enjoyable of his novels to date, Palecek shows himself to be a skilled cartographer of our collective dreams, fears and memories.
And if you don’t remember what you were doing when you heard Kennedy was shot, don’t worry; read this book, and you’ll always remember exactly what Johnny Moon was doing.
~by Marc Beaudin