Score: 84/100 (8.4 out of 10)
Surfer Moon by Domenic Melillo embodies both the surfer culture and music of the 1960s like no other short-story we've read.
This short-story definitely stands out as both ambitious and inspired. It is really only held back by issues with formatting and some slight grammatical oversights. It is also a bit convoluted for a short-story, cramming a novel's worth of content and character development into less than 30 pages. It does, indeed, feel rushed at times. Beside these issues—which can usually be fixed in the editing stage--Surfer Moon offers readers a lot to sink their teeth into.
The story follows a young Brian Wilson, a founding member of the Beach Boys, as he encounters someone he profoundly inspired through his music, Duke Armstrong.
Duke Armstrong, according to this book, is a legendary surfer who previously prided himself on riding an 80-foot monster of a wave. At the beginning of this story, both Duke and Brian seem to be at a low point in their lives, especially Duke. Duke appears to be—to make a Moby Dick reference—on his last leg. There are allusions to him potentially being an amputee, although it is really his spirit (rather than his body) that is the most damaged. He has seemingly lost the will to live and has become disillusioned with the life he chose (that of a Californian surfer). He makes a suicidal attempt to ride a 100-foot rogue wave, fully expecting to ride or die.
The reasons for Duke doing this are explored as the narrative progresses.
Nonetheless, through a crazy set of circumstances that is frankly a little difficult to comprehend, Duke finds himself in 1964 having been rescued from drowning by a kid who turns out to be a young Brian Wilson (before Wilson's music career took off). This is due to what's apparently a “crazy metaphysical quantum impossibility” which is either time-travel in a scientific sense or “magic” caused by a lunar phenomenon (the titular “Surfer Moon”).
Brian and Duke form the crux of the book, equally inspiring and fascinating each other.
Brian, it turns out, is having a bit of an existential crisis of his own. Brian is not aware that someday his music will entertain and inspire Duke and millions of other people, creating its own subculture. As far as Brian knows, he's a nobody who is trapped in a hamster wheel similar to how Duke feels about his surfing career.
Incredibly, the two are able to learn more about themselves and find purpose again. It actually becomes a very heartwarming story. Another way in this book succeeds is in capturing the zeitgeist or spirit of an era, showing us a unique and defining moment in history. The mid to late 60s were a very turbulent time, one of the tensest in our nation's history. It's interesting to note that in the midst of all the wildness of the Vietnam War, Cold War, and civil rights movement, the surfer subculture had emerged to take the American mind to a place where it could escape from a harsh reality. Brian and the Beach Boys were able to give Americans (and people around the world) a welcomed relief from a dreary existence full of conflict and strife.
This book also includes and starts with a fascinating metatextual letter between Moondoggie and Gidget from the novel Gidget, the Little Girl with Big Ideas by Frederick Kohner. While on the surface, the letter appears to not be directly related to the events of this story, it actually shares many of the same themes and ideas. Moondoggie, like Duke and Brian, fell in love with the idea of the surfer boy/surfer girl who grows up on the beach and makes a living on the waves. Kohner's work, it can be argued, inspires Brian who later inspires Duke (and vice-versa). It also explains why a young man would fall in love with surfer culture or the surfer lifestyle. It's the same reason why a chivalrous knight would want to become a chivalrous knight, or why a high school football player might want to become a high school football player—because it's cool, it's fun, it's appealing, there's a status associated with it, and—perhaps most importantly—because of the girls. Gidget embodies the ideal or dream girl sought after in this scenario.
The irony is that, like with a lot of hobbies and passions that men delude themselves into while pursuing women, men often find that most women are far less interested in those things than the media would make them appear. This would also help to explain why Duke feels so betrayed and disillusioned by being unmarried following decades of surfing. In his mind, he has failed to achieve the ideal.
Gidget doesn't just embody a dream girl to a young boy, but she also represents freedom, passion, adventure, risk, and fun—the things that would appeal to a young man, but not necessarily to an older one with a bad lower-back, busted hip, and a more cautious approach to life.
This story has a lot of good to offer. However, it does have quite a few weaknesses. The absence of indentations between paragraphs is particularly problematic when a story or book includes a lot of dialogue, which this story does. This makes it more challenging to determine when one person/party is speaking over when another person/party is speaking. Something else we noticed is that there are quite a few grammatical errors. There are times like on page 11 when “first of all” or “first off” is written as “first of.” There are times when two question-marks or exclamation-marks are used, something that a novice writer would do in an SMS text-message versus what a professional author (like Melillo) would be expected to do in a professional work. There are times like on pages 17 and 18 when the comma or period occurs outside the quotation mark, or on page 21 when the comma or period is missing from the quote altogether. This actually happens twice on the same page for some reason.
There's also a rather humorous fact that this book begins with “Chapter One” yet includes no other chapters, essentially ending at the end of one. This seems to be an oversight. The grammatical and formatting issues also appear to be oversights that could have been caught with some proofreading or rewriting.
With all those criticisms aside, this story still has a lot of heart and intrigue.