Review: Just Shoot Me Now (A Review of Shoot The Moon by Isa Arsén)

By Hugh Blanton

When I reviewed Gabino Iglesias's terrible novel The Devil Takes You Home in August of 2022 I thought that publishing had reached a new low and that fiction writing couldn't possibly get any worse. The book had what publishing wanted: identity politics, racism, and other assorted oppressions. These things are in such high demand by the publishing industry they are willing to publish prose that sounds like it's written by struggling grammar school students. It was easy to imagine an editor going over Iglesias's manuscript and saying to another editor, "Man, this stuff is amateur hour at the fan fiction bar!" and the other editor replying, "Yeah, but it knocks Donald Trump and it's got a transgender character. Let's publish it." At any rate, I couldn't have been more wrong about fiction writing not getting any worse. Allow me introduce you to Isa Arsén.

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Shoot the Moon is Isa Arsén's debut novel. Our main character, Annie Fisk, wants to follow in her daddy's footsteps and become a scientist. She goes on to get a degree in rocket science at The College and Academy of St. Christopher the Martyr with the intent of joining NASA. Annie meets Evelyn there, an art major who is only taking rocket science as a class requirement. Evelyn introduces Annie to lesbianism, and Annie discovers she is bisexual. The resulting sex scene is where Arsén really puts her bad prose on display: "I slid my hands up and down her arms... my palms itching with purpose." Itching? Once the reader gets the vision of insects or rashes out of their head, it goes on: "I was too jellied to move in earnest for several slow molasses-minutes, all my split-apart small bones floating in the air around me." It gets worse: "The trepidation in her eyes was a smear of doubt like oil on chrome." Oil on chrome? Arsén gives dimestore romance paperbacks a good name.
Annie goes on to get her degree, and as you can guess, the two women with such different backgrounds split apart. Annie has changed her mind about NASA and works odd jobs to pay her way through secretarial school. She then changes her mind again and applies to work at NASA as a typist, transcribing the scientist's and engineer's handwritten notes. As she's transcribing the notes of one particular scientist, Norman Hale, she notices errors in his calculations and silently corrects them. The errors keep coming and Annie storms into Norm's office and confronts him about his bungling. Norm doesn't argue or even get defensive. In fact, they begin a love affair. As mentioned, dimestore romance paperbacks shine in comparison.
Shoot the Moon reads like it came straight out of a sixth grade composition class. She describes the stars in the night sky: "like batter flung against the scooped-out bowl of the night." What kind of batter has she been cooking with?
Someone who's had too much to drink: "Battalions of cocktails swirled in his belly."
Describes her lover's laugh: "Evelyn tossed out a laugh in full then, a coyote's bark on crystal water." A coyote's bark? Anybody who's heard a coyote's bark knows they are completely and sometimes frighteningly inhuman.  
Fitting in with her colleagues: "A hot coil of camaraderie swelled gently at the base of my throat."
Describes her lover Norm: "So unshakably patient he could make a boulder weep." When she thinks of him: "Made the roots of my teeth itch." There's that itching again. Remember her cringe love scene with Evelyn? Here she is with Norm: "Rooted my way out of my brassiere."
The moon: "A thick white tooth in my window." (She also describes a city skyline as she approached it in her car: "The city proper rose like teeth against the horizon." What might a Freudian make of all this itching and teeth?)

I could go on, but suffice it to say her metaphor and simile are that of an overeager poet. Arsén may even be aware of her talent limitations—she begins each chapter with the precise time and place as she jumps back and forth between time and place. Many novels jump back in forth in time and place, and it's a joy for the reader to figure it out as they read along without having it spelled out to them. Arsén doesn't give the reader that credit.
Shoot the Moon goes beyond genre bending to genre breaking. What starts out as realism—watching this young woman beginning life with work and college—suddenly morphs into a time travel SciFi. The plot twists and unexpected events are so obvious that even the most casual reader can see them coming a mile away. (Except one, and that's only because it's so absurdly contrived as to be ridiculously comical.) There are scenes in this book that had the potential to be shocking but were ruined by Arsén's hackneyed writing. When one comes across "he took a swing from his bottle" one doesn't know if it's a copyeditor oversight or a very deliberate phrase.
As is the wont with debut novelists, Arsén has an acknowledgments page at the end of the novel. It goes on for almost two pages. Her agent, editors at her publisher, people whose names are given without us knowing why or even who they are, NASA archivists. One can only wonder how a debut novelist got connections that allowed her access to NASA databases.
There are two sentences in this book that contain "I cried and cried and cried." This is Arsén's way of telling us of grief. I could have sworn there was some ten-rules-of-writing in some enchiridion somewhere that commands writers to show not tell. Regardless, we readers will cry and cry and cry until the publishing industry can give us a novelist who doesn't kowtow to current publishing trends and can just give us a well written story.

Hugh Blanton's latest book is Kentucky Outlaw. He can be reached on X @HughBlanton5


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