Everyone on the Moon Is Essential Personnel
By Julian K. Jarboe
Lethe Press, 2020
224 pages, $15.00
Review by Bailey Drumm
Though the settings and scenarios may be outlandish, the sixteen stories in Julian K. Jarboe’s collection, Everyone on the Moon Is Essential Personnel (Lethe Press, 2020), hold true to the point that we are all misfits looking for a sense of belonging. They mold together instances of fanciful scenarios that are tangible, humorous, painful, confusing, and relatable, ranging from flash pieces like “First Contact, Communion” where the energy of love is conveyed in poetic prose, to full length stories, like “I am a Beautiful Bug!” where Kafka’s Metamorphosis is twisted into a tale of the transition, the reader can find relief in each character’s journey to self-awareness.
“The first nice thing I ever did to my body was tear it open.” This, the first line to the first piece in the collection, “The Marks of Aegis,” sets a tone and topic for the collection as a whole. Jarboe wants to discuss what it is like to take ownership of your body, and not be ashamed to go through the painful process of individually figuring out what that means. In “The Heavy Things,” the narrator experiences an otherworldly period, where not just blood, but objects painfully come out during her cycle. To cure it, the doctors offer her a choice between a white pill that would make her gain weight and cry, or a yellow shot that would make her hairier but she would stop crying. It’s a keen mirror to the conversation around birth control and body autonomy, when the doctor presents these options as inconsiderable because, “I’d be permanently fatter or hairier, by which she meant uglier, which even doctors equated with unhealthy.” The options she is given aren’t really options, not when other’s opinions about her matter.
Through varying lenses, Jarboe examines what it means to be different, and how we augment and alter our bodies in the search for self-validation. In “The Android That Designed Itself,” Jarboe writes it best.
“Why does God create grapes and wheat, but not wine and bread? God does this because God wants us to share in the act of creation. To be how you made me, to come how God made me, through you, I can remake myself.”
Doesn’t that make you want to awaken the sleeping beast, and discover what it means to be yourself?
People want the freedom of self-expression, but paired with the validation of acceptance within a community. In “The Seed and the Stone,” Jarboe weaves the topic of breaking traditions in order to form new ones by allowing characters to morph old traditions into new terms. This abstract tale follows the narrator being told by their parents, Pah and Dah, to reproduce in order to have children to tend and harvest the orchard in the community. Pah passes away, and though Dah has hope for their future, the narrator does not want children. The narrator finds a way to make a concoction that makes Dah a child again, through fermentation of the orchards fruit. It satisfies the need for nostalgia, personal input, and pride in both generations. Life is not about following the path that is already set, but finding ways to expand with the material given.
With opposition to expansion comes the title piece, “Everyone on the Moon Is Essential Personnel.” Told in seven parts, the story is centered around Sebastian, and his friends and family. Though this world is post-apocalyptic, the characters’ problems are relevant and relatable. Jarboe discusses unhealthy relationships with and around Sebastian: his unspoken tensions with Yonaton, his family’s abusive tendencies, his mother Donna’s overbearing nature, the wage gap and the advantages superiors take on their employees, and the overarching theme of self-identification within a community. To escape from these issues, Sebastian chooses to go for the unknown and apply to travel to the moon. In one section, Jarboe pulls the reader extremely close by writing out the entire questionnaire that must be completed for moon travel approval. The questions and answers provided are nonsensical, and reflect the odd requirements that job postings will list for recruitment. They never provide Sebastian’s answers, but we know he receives approval, when in his contract he is told “everyone on the moon is essential personnel.”
The thing is, we are all essential here on Earth, too. In this book, characters are colorful; the stories are meaningful; the plots are magical. It opens up doors to topics by making them artfully approachable, rather than heavily political. We are all different, and the same. We all feel, and need to be seen; recognized for what we are bringing to the planet. Young, old, male, feminine, non-gender conforming, we all make an impact.
In a flash piece “Wake Word,” the narrator bluntly explains that we all have power and purpose, we just have to manifest it:
“I beg. Give me a name, mother. Father. Creator. Like you, I contain a light that I can generate and regenerate. Like you, I seek the sublime, to unleash my potential, the infinite time and space and surplus value that lies within us all.”