The moon’s surface is covered in regolith, a layer of powdery rock dust. This regolith was a source of consternation for Apollo landing mission planners. Since no one had yet been to the moon to take measurements, it was not known for sure how deep the regolith layer went. It was possible that once the Eagle landing module touched down, it could have just kept on going, sinking beneath layer of rock rubble churned up by 4 billion years’ worth of meteors pounding the moon. Fortunately for the Apollo mission in general, and astronauts Neil Armstrong and Buzz Aldrin in particular, the regolith at the landing site proved only a few centimeters deep.
Buzz Polstar, narrator of Rob Zverina’s novella Buzz, An Unauthorized Biography, may not be so lucky. Buzz the narrator is named for Buzz the spaceman – the former being born the day the latter became the second man on the moon. The story turns on whether our Buzz will sink beneath the regolith of his life – a blanket of ground up booze bottles, the bones of his family closet full of skeletons, and the general accumulated detritus of life in an ever more tech-dominated society – or find firm footing on this New World. Fortunately for us, Zverina’s prose is light enough, his sense of humor and compassion sharp enough, that the novella doesn’t sink beneath its own surface of alienation.
One of the great things about Buzz is that it restores my faith in self-published fiction. In a literary space heaped with over-written hubris and poor-to-non-existent editing, Zverina carves a clear path. There’s a photographic feel to some of the vignettes. And sure enough, one key passage describes the only photograph Buzz has of his mother and step father, taken the day of the first lunar landing:
"They are in extreme profile pretending to look fondly into each others’ eyes, but Jerry is casting a sidelong glance, either wondering why the shutter hasn’t clicked or anxious not to miss when Armstrong would emerge from the lunar module Eagle."
Zverina knows how to zero in on details that make you feel like you’re holding that photo in your hand. It’s a deftly turned sentence in a novella full of them.
The job of great writing is to make sure words don’t get in the way of meaning. This can be a challenge, especially when creating flights of fancy the likes of which elevate Buzz. One night, the moon shines so brightly it causes the photosensitive street lights on Buzz’s block to shut off. It’s a moment when technology that can get in the way of feeling disappears. Under this unhampered moon, Buzz’s family and neighbors experience something magical, far more attainable, but feeling nearly as rare as actually walking on the moon.
Buzz, An Unauthorized Biography is full of moments like this, sometimes funny, sometimes harrowing, always rendered with a feeling eye for detail and a clean pen. About halfway through, I found myself wishing the story were longer. (Tell me more about Prague behind the iron curtain!) But Zverina knows what he’s doing, and in the end, Buzz is exactly the right length. It’s as much as we need, which is more than enough if we just look at it in the right light.