Joe & Me by David Moody – Review
Prior to coming across Joe & Me, I had seen the name of David Moody around, but had read none of his work. (Yes, I know …) But, halfway through this story, the first in the This Is Horror Premium Chapbook Series, I was flipping to the About The Author section to see what else of his I could read. Then I jumped right in and started writing this review, then realized I ought to finish the story first. I was in the initial fluttery stages of an exciting discovery.
Though the process of reviewing the three volumes in this ongoing chapbook series was never meant to be a competition, I’ll have to say that, despite the strengths of The Fox and Thin Men with Yellow Faces, Joe & Me has to be my favorite. It’s a (mostly) gentle story about a family breaking apart for all the right reasons. It’s a story of sacrifice. It’s a story of the power of love. And it’s a story of choices that make Sophie’s look like one between chocolate or vanilla ice-cream. All of this against a back-drop of top-secret military projects that, depending on their use, can either save or destroy life on Earth.
The Me of the title is the father of eight-year-old Joe. He’s a stay-at-home dad who looks after his son while Mum is busy day and night working at an MoD-funded lab hidden in an innocuous-looking old building. Mum is canny and compassionate and puts in clandestine overtime working out a way to use the project—her project—in order to benefit populations rather than destroy them. Usually apocalyptic weapons-projects come off as rather cheesy, but Moody has imagined one that’s just plausible enough. Tensions arise when budgets and deadlines are tight, and MoD power-politics kick in, meaning Mum spends precious little time at home and when she is home she’s tired and grouchy. Is she justified in sacrificing her family in order to ‘save the world’, or should she put humanity’s future aside to care for her son?
Well, Moody contrives a story where this choice gets about as complicated as possible. It’s patiently paced, but never once drags, so I had plenty of time to get to know father and son and grow to care about them and worry for their situation. So, when the peril really arrived, I was chewing the inside of my mouth as I read. I honestly did not know which way the choice ought to go, or what I would do if faced with the same situation (I think I do know now). And even though I think the choice that was made was the only human one possible, its consequences are suitably dire.
What makes this work so well is the normalcy, the near flatness, of the writing. I don’t mean that in a bad way. Moody’s style is far from dull. It’s merely unobtrusive. It gets out of the way. There’s no attempt here to dazzle you with fine sentences. Which means the story flows by you in Dad’s gentle first-person narration with you barely realizing you’re reading. That’s confident writing.
Moody’s one misstep, and it’s minor, is the story’s final line. No need for it. It says nothing that hasn’t already been thoroughly implied, and in fact, the story ends with more of a bite if that line isn’t there. It goes out of the first-person we’ve had all along, into some objective third-person that left me a little bewildered. The narrative ceased to flow. Thankfully, it was only one line, and considering how much else is so, so right about this piece, I’ll forgive him and rush out to buy something else of his to read.