Everyone on the Moon Is Essential Personnel is a Perfect Quarantine Read
Author: David Pratt
June 9, 2020
“The first nice thing I ever did to my body was to tear it open.”
Thus Julian K. Jarboe begins their debut story collection, Everyone on the Moon Is Essential Personnel. Reading those words I promptly said “Holy shit!” aloud to an empty house, jumped up and walked back a forth a couple of times considering the actual statement and excitedly thinking, was I witnessing the appearance of a seriously important new voice?
I was. I do not congratulate myself too much; Jarboe is already known to readers of such periodicals as Fairy Tale Review, Strange Horizons, Hypocrite Reader and The Atlantic. This is, however, Jarboe’s first collection, and it is a landmark, brought out by the ever reliable Lethe Press.
I sat back down and dug into Everyone on the Moon and found it overflowing with rapturous language, vivid, sophisticated imagery, sharp sociopolitical observations, and heartrending reflections on the lives of those who struggle to align body, desire and identity and yet find themselves bluntly rejected. “When I became an adult,” says the queer narrator of “Estranged Children of Storybook Houses,” one of the book’s finest pieces, “it was decided for me that I was incapable of living on my own, and I understood that my needs were not needs like other adults, but tragedies to those around me.” Yet that narrator has recourse to a fairy garden where resides their doppelgänger—ironically no more acceptable to the family than the narrator.
Everyone on the Moon is Essential Personnel deals to a great extent with these often uneasy relationships between bodies, identities, and blood (meaning clueless, narcissistic, yet sometimes beloved relations), but Jarboe also has their finger on the pulse of our entire clueless, narcissistic society, and they capture perfectly both the tone of and reasons for younger millennials’ nihilistic assessments of the world they have inherited. One narrator speaks of “the hospital conglomerate metastasizing its way across these black forests” and another characterizes the Internet as “twenty-four-seven, wirelessly-transmitted, context-free, bot-posted ideas about why everyone is so fucked up all the time.”
In the title novella, paperwork for a jobs program that is no more than indentured servitude in outer space deadpans, “When the Moon is out, clap for it. Tell everyone that’s where you’re going. It will support the spread of common values.” Today, the cozily sheltered are come out at night to clap, supposedly to acknowledge health care workers, but also to feel better about their ever so privileged selves. Jarboe could not have imagined such a scene when they wrote the story, but the brutish, dishonest, duplicitous and self-serving behavior exposed by the Covid-19 pandemic cannot possibly be surprising the author of this book. Everyone on the Moon is Essential Personnel is in fact a perfect quarantine read, as it sets out with clear vision and cutting wit the same socioeconomic lies, deceptions, pretenses, charades, and inequalities that the novel coronavirus has highlighted and exacerbated. (Speaking of novels, I hope we get one from Jarboe soon.) It is not a stretch to say that most of Jarboe’s stories take place in worlds somehow infected and dying (the trusts and estates left behind by a coastal city’s dying industries are likened to “illnesses and ghosts”), yet a world in which the author still finds much beauty and creates on their own much more. Reading this book one discovers how the tools of speculative and fantasy fiction can be so essential to queer expression. In the end, Jarboe is able to honestly grapple with this world, as a great artist will, for what other mother do we have?
Everyone on the Moon Is Essential Personnel
By Julian K. Jarboe
Paperback, 9781590216927, 220 pp.