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MOONEY IN FLIGHT BY BRUCE DUCKER

MOONEY IN FLIGHT
by Bruce Ducker

ISBN: 1-931561-52-4
Fiction
Hardcover, 398 pages

Design by
Dorothy Carico Smith


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MOONEY IN FLIGHT

Runner-up for the Colorado Best Book Award

OVERVIEW

CHAPTER ONE

REVIEWS

ARTICLES

PRESS RELEASE

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MOONEY IN FLIGHT

Leonard Mooney hits what many might consider the fantasy jackpot: inheriting a deserted tropical island and a chance at a fresh life. Armed with time, scenery, and a healthy ration of rum, Mooney wrestles the ghosts who follow him, amuse him, hector him.

Dark and comic, Mooney in Flight follows a disaffected, drunk, and bewildered man who has removed himself from the lives of his two children and the ex-wife he adores. He is alone with his thoughts, relentless sand fleas, and unanswered questions. When an airplane lands on his island, an exotic couple disembark and bring to his solitude both danger and opportunity for change.

The reader of Mooney in Flight may glimpse the escape act of so many American males who disappear into drink or fantasy or work, into anything but responsibility and empathy.

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MOONEY IN FLIGHT

CHAPTER ONE

What the ocean offered was nothing, no people, no Stace or Tommy, no home, no kid named Dog.

And all you felt, as the speeding dinghy slipped the surface on every wave, your insides ballooning out ahead and your weight rising to hammer height and then—bam—back to the seat on your sit bones, all you felt was terror and a sore butt.

Each leg of the trip got worse. It would make a cartoon, the centipede complaining to the chiropodist, each leg is worse than the last. I started by airplane from my hometown in the middle of the country, changed for the Bahamas to a plane the size of an elevator, engines that gagged like they ran on unfiltered Camels. First stop Nassau, then on to Providenciales, they call it Provo, the capital of these islands, then to sea. I traded my fear of heights for a fear of spaces. By launch over a washboard chop to the last inhabited key, and finally this, a rowboat twelve feet dent to dent, my worldly possessions sloshing in two inches of cloudy bilge.

Two inches and rising.

The sulky black man I hired to ferry me over stood in the stern and took his hand from the outboard's handle only to light a cigarette or flick one overboard. Once to tuck another roll in his trouser legs, a sign I took to mean we'd be taking on more water.

Pills for motion sickness had made me drowsy. In the patches where the water flattened out, my head flopped to my chest. The drone of the engine, the clop-clop of the waves, the clammy air. Then we would hit a speed bump that God had forgotten in the middle of the sea, and my neck would snap. The boatman kept squinting into the glare, a look of doubt on his face like he was sailing with Columbus and had forgotten the location of the hospital corner where the earth ended.

I must have been dozing when the island, my island, came on us. The outboard slowed to a grind, the forward shift of my body startled me awake and my grip tightened on the rail. When I looked up the bow was pointing at a scruffy line of sand broken by mangrove and stunted pine.

A floating dock jutted out from the beach. Isaac—he had told me his name, said I might need it—tied us fast to a rusty cleat. I sat useless while he heaved my bags onto the dock. The two canvas duffels held a toilet kit, a few books, the three-ring binders that were my stamp albums, and all my clothes. Plastic sacks full of canned goods, mostly soups and meats and a case of creamed corn. Two weeks' supply of fresh produce, okra, lettuce, blotchy yellow tomatoes. An open carton the butcher in Provo had begrudged me to carry meat that had been sliced and decked into white paper packets, neatly bundled for freezing.

Should he tote them in? The way he asked, he wanted me to understand he thought me a loony, a misplaced white man who didn't belong here and who wouldn't last long.

He asked a second time. “You want I carry the shit in, man?” He wasn't black, any more than I was white, but the colors of eggplant and motor oil.

“No need.”

There were few enough chores, nothing other than settling in, storing gear, putting things in their place. I sat in the middle of the boat—he had scolded me about where to sit to keep from upsetting things. Now I stuck like a dog to the curb, and when he realized I needed a command to move, he flapped his hand to release me. I stood unsteadily and climbed out.

Isaac hopped between dock and boat, swinging the packages up. His sleek seal color reached down to just above the soles of his feet, and there like the rim on a pair of sneakers it turned into a gummy pink fringe. Days of standing in the bilge had washed out the browns and purples.

He was lining up the bags in neat rows. The afternoon wind had come up strong ahead of a front, Isaac agreed to ferry me so long as he could be back before the front blew in. Wavelets popped against the sides of his metal dinghy, and against the hull of a second boat, a Boston Whaler that came with the house. It was moored fast on the far side of the dilapidated boards. I recognized it from the estate agent's pictures, and even there it looked sorry, its motor pulled clear of the water and covered in torn orange jacket. The Whaler too had taken on water, and I peered in to see a plastic margarine tub floated about. I don't like boats. For that matter, movement.

Perfect weather for my adopted life. Gray mournful clouds bunted across a gray sky. Far out in crusted seas, a sun lighted pools of blues and blacks, a sun miles away shining on somebody else's planet. Not the Caribbean of the back-cover ads where tanned people in pastels chat and drink highballs, here skies were fat with moisture and the air smelled of dead fish and rain.

“We get a second wet season now,” the estate agent in Provo had said. “You will find it quite short, quite refreshing. Rain and sand fleas through June, then heat and sand fleas to the autumn, then hurricane and sand fleas. The winter is pleasant, Mr. Mooney, our loveliest season. Merely sand fleas. That is your selling time. If you desire to try to live on Penniel Key for a little while, Mr. Mooney, that is fine. But if you desire to introduce this house into the marketplace, don't miss your selling time. The Hofstadter House is not a property that will easily gain access into the marketplace.”

Not my concern. I reached into my pocket and fngered the two keys she had given me. Identical, tied by white twine to a paper disc on which “Hofstadter House” was neatly printed. When I'm gone will she, I wondered, buy a new disc? Will it become the Mooney House? Paid her past due invoices for plumbing, propane delivery, and security. And so bought a double-slice of time, extra cheese. Time and solitude, both as useless as the cement-foam water around me.

I could hear Hofstadter: Don't get mad and don't even get even. Just get out.

Isaac swung the last sack to the boards and stared at me. One of his eyes, the right, showed a color you didn't want to look at. Red the meat of a clam. It pushed out the white. He balanced himself in the boat, silent, waiting for me to understand he was through. I opened my wallet so he could see in. Watched him watch my thumb graze over the blue and purple Bahamian dollars. He breathed through his nose, you could hear it. Behind those exotic bills, a smaller, neat file, I riffled the green U.S. currency. Slid out two twenties and handed them over. Thirty-five dollars had been quoted. He rubbed his dangerous eye over me and made no move toward change.

“What if I want you?” The extra five bought me a dumb question.

“You got no radio here. You can't call.”

We studied each other. I wondered if his eye was sick, maybe in Provo he could have it examined.

“Hoist sometin'.” He said at last and nodded toward the house. “A towel in the window. I pass by every week to Mayaguana. If I see a towel or sometin' I stop. You leave a note, I bring you shit.”

Isaac stepped over the broken plank serving for the stern seat, put his foot on the engine housing, his first two toes around the starter cord. He yanked and the motor fired. He walked forward and loosed the line from its cleat, jumped in. He steered slowly around the floating debris that was the dock. When he was clear he looked over his shoulder—a last chance? Maybe the lunatic will come to his senses—and wrenched the throttle. The boat carved through the water.

I watched the dot disappear into bands of color. You would have thought the sounds would leave, too, but after the rattling tin boat was swallowed up there was no quiet. The static of the water, the rasp of the sand, the wind that flapped against my trouser leg. At my feet lay bags of provisions in rows. They were the army of enemy. I picked out the first carton box, Carnation condensed milk—why the hell had I bought that? I don't drink milk—hefted it to my hip, and began the walk.

The dock went halfway up the beach to account for tides. Its boards, doused in salt and dried by the sun, had been nailed to a frame and the frame set on caulked oilcans. An anchor rope pointed the walkway into the sea, and the oilcans buoyed the whole assembly. It shook and slid around when I walked over it to the beach.

A sand path ran through the yellow sea grasses of the dunes. A hundred yards up sat the house. I realized I was standing on the spot where the agent shot the file photo, from the start of the dock, to catch the dunes and the house at its best, its elevation, a clear sky. The photograph was honest, showing a dilapidated cottage, unpainted shingles grayed near to silver from neglect. A dozen blown-down shingles lay where they fell. A few were replaced, I could see the catalogue-brown stain on the new wood, they loooked like missing teeth. A double window sat in the front dormer of a partial second story. Penniel Key it was called, although it couldn't be the key to anything. Penniel Lost in the Ocean, Penniel Birdshit-on-the-rocks.

I went up the three outside steps. Once the porch was screened in, but the occasional guest, maybe even Hofstadter, had clipped random squares so there was more air than mesh. The door to the porch lolled open on its hinges. I set down the carton of cans, grasped the handle to the inner door and gave a twist. The tongue engaged the gears, the latch gave, if you take care of moving parts they don't let you down, and I went in.

Where the heart is. Home sweet home, ever so humble. Inside, on either side of the door sat two chrome straight chairs with seats of flecked red plastic. A daybed sofa, a half-upholstered easy chair, and across on the long wall to my right a small fireplace. Where to find wood on this smear of land? But a hearth nonetheless.

I am a sucker for fireplaces, for all sites romantic. Even the two women I married would have admitted that. When Alice and I decided to wed, her first time not counting an annulment and about four thousand live-ins and my second, resolving that our pasts were just that, past, to be blazed to ashes, we commited an eternal and romantic act. It was my suggestion, right after I proposed or she did, I never really understood how it came about, we were finishing a bottle of red wine after a spaghetti supper, so we took pens and wrote on a pad of slate blue paper, hidden from the other, the names of every lover we could remember. Wrote out our lists and crumpled the pages into a ball. And I, her eyes aglimmer in the light, her face beaming with just the expression of devotion you'd want if you were directing a school play, then I tossed both balls of paper onto the logs and we watched our new life flare up in the flames. Very effective, very eternal.

Perhaps I would have a fire. Perhaps there was a grove of hardwood behind the house, and perhaps there was more on this tiny fishhook of an island than the estate agent had let on. The agent was angry with me. When she heard of Hofstadter's death, she went to the expense of preparing a brochure to sell the property. It looked to be an easy commission. But Hofstadter tricked her by leaving the house and island to some Statie, some inland, pallid crackpot who showed up in Provo and declared he was going to move in. “People vacation there,” the agent told me over the phone and again in person, in that particular blend of Bahamian courtesy and disdain. “We get a few rentals in season, Mr. Mooney, though not many. It's too remote. You must understand, there is no source of supply, your only electricity is from a generator. You will be quite alone. Propane lamps, a two-hour open-boat ride to the nearest inhabited island. People simply don't live there.”

I banged through the first floor. Behind the main room connected by a pantry were a 1940s kitchen, gas burners and electric refrigerator. The cabinets at eye level had what I'd need. Jam-jar glasses, chipped china. One setting would do. Above all sorts of crap to make it a cutesy home, straw place mats, candles, a hardwood salad bowl. Uncharacteristic of Hofstadter—they must have been spoils from a former owner.

The rest of the first floor consisted of a small room with a dilapidated double bed, iron headboard painted white. A bathroom where the toilet and sink functioned despite the rust scars. The medicine cabinet over the sink had a mirror facing out. I looked at its sorry view, wished it wasn't there. I checked the closet: old, gray linens, and on the top shelves games for a rainy day. Upstairs the one room, windowed on three sides, and a single army bed tented between the eaves. The mattress was ancient, the cover lined in blue ticking. someone had folded linens and an unraveling wool blanket and piled them on the dresser. Welcome home.

I suppose, to give Alice her due, we had no real chance. You need a certain momentum to get on with life, like leaping across a stream. It's harder to do from a standing start, and when we married I had no momentum. I tried to gather some speed—why else that evening of movie drama, the list, the crumpled ball, the names of past loves firing up the chimney? Of course, I started and ended my list with Reba. If we had thought to set out rules for the exercise, we'd have excluded departed spouses. But I thought this was the right way, I wanted to list them all, I'd made my list before, and lovers—love—always started and ended with Reba.

I finished my tour. Behind the house a healthy sedge grew over the sands, marking the boundaries, I only later realized, of the leaching field for the septic tank. At the far edge a knobbled, pygmy pine. Attached to the back of the house and coming up by the kitchen window was a metal locker that housed the tools I might need to get on here. A fishing rod, a spade and pitchfork, various rakes. A scythe, of all things. Maybe I'd give a costume party, I'd wear the scythe and the sheets from the bed and come as the Grim Reaper. Several sizes of linoleum cutters. Boxes of spare shingles, a stack of flagstone, though I hadn't seen any installed, piping joints, wires, small jars of nuts and fasteners and eyelets. I was not interested in maintenance. Does the condemned man shine his shoes?

Against the back wall of the house, by a rear door that wouldn't latch, a small pile of wood. Nothing more than the cuttings of old bush, each branch the diameter of a woman's wrist. I brought an armful inside and arranged it to the side of the fireplace.

Then I went about my task of stocking the house. Don't some birds store gorge in their gullet and just cough it up for their young? I made several trips. The place was what I anticipated, just rummier.

The stand-up freezer swallowed my supply without a burp. On the porch I watched darkness seep into the horizon. There was nothing else in it, just dark and water. The rains started, only a spit but sweet-smelling and soft. I went indoors. Checked to make sure the flue was open and stacked a few logs in a square, like building a model outpost on some frontier. Paper would be at a premium—why hadn't I thought to ask for paper sacks? I unwrapped a tin of Norwegian sardines and used the label. It was enough and the sticks caught fire. They burned in blue and yellow flames, colors of the chemicals of the sea.

Seven, eight trips down the path in a light drizzle. Monotonous. Again I stowed the food that needed putting away. The crabs, Mr. Mooney, the agent said. If you leave the bread out the crabs will come through the walls and take the bread. Then I sat down and watched the fire. It burned too quickly to enjoy. I was alone at last, and, now two hours into my exile, I was lonely. Two hours into my plan of giving up a life that had nothing in it, I was bored.

When I left Alice that last day, after we talked about my departure like our lives were different movies, we are deciding which channel to watch, we discussed who kept what. There was no argument. I told her to tag whatever she wanted and sell the rest. Hofstadter's house came furnished. Besides I wanted to leave all that stuff behind. Even though I hadn't seen the house I was hoping that it was beyond the reach of her magazine racks and potholders in the shape of kittens. Before I left, I set the ball of paper on the mantel. Of course I had palmed her list of lovers, stuck it in my pocket and threw into the fire a blank page I had in my hand. So I placed her list on the mantel. Not that I'm proud of this, I know it is cranky and cloddish, but there are times, and birth and death are among them and maybe this one too, a man and a woman leaving their marriage, that cranky doesn't count. I smoothed it out and centered it on the mantel. With a black ballpoint pen that bears an unfurling U.S. flag and the name and telephone number of Alice's real estate company, Miramonte Farms, I printed clearly across the top, ONE TOO MANY.

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MOONEY IN FLIGHT

REVIEWS

“Brilliantly written, with the cool aplomb and attention to detail of a private eye. This is a book about being grown up and the world that suggests.”
—James Salter

"Bruce Ducker has managed to create a character that inspires hope rather than pity. Mooney in Flight is a satisfying and touching story...."
—The Denver Post

"A compelling, sometimes dark read...a great screenplay. A gripping and imaginative read."
—Rocky Mountain News

Mooney in Flight: A Novel, "Mooney in Flight is a special and rare book, one about adult life as it is lived. While Leonard Mooney's wrecked life might seem a dark and depressing subject, in the author's hand it is anything but. You'll be engrossed, entertained, and humored as Mooney slouches toward the outcome. Witty and knowing, this book is one you won't want to end."
—Stephen Longstreet

“As he sorts through his past and its series of missteps, some grander than others, Mooney becomes a character that the reader cares about and ultimately cheers.”
—The Denver Post

Amazon.com Website— FIVE STARS!!

Holiday pick, Tattered Cover.

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MOONEY IN FLIGHT

ARTICLES

DESPERATION OF MIDLIFE CRISIS SHOWS IN 'FLIGHT'

By Ashley Simpson Shires,
Special To
The Rocky Mountain News
December 19, 2003

A mysteriously absent wife, a buxom Realtor, an unexpected benefactor and a deserted tropical island—these are the main ingredients for Bruce Ducker's new novel, Mooney in Flight.

It's a good set-up for a story about a man in a mid-life crisis. And Ducker follows through, developing his character, Leonard Mooney, in first-class midlife crisis form. Mooney's mantra is "Don't get mad, don't get even, just get out."

The novel begins with Mooney arriving at his remote tropical inheritance. It is an isolated affair—he flies from middle America to the Bahamas, takes a launch to the last inhabited key and finally boards a leaky rowboat to his remote island.

It is from this island that he narrates his story. And the story is a compelling, sometimes dark read.

Ducker's writing style effectively evokes the desperation of Mooney's situation. The physical landscape reflects Mooney's emotional one. It is the rainy season; the skies are mostly gray and the sand fleas are inescapable.

The descriptions set the tone as Ducker slips between Mooney's rum-dazed, self-destructive existence on the island and the past that haunts him. He describes the painful loss of Mooney's son and then his first wife. He documents his dismal job at the Office of the Clerk of the Municipal Court, his petty feud with a co-worker, the inevitable divorce of his second wife.

Even Mooney's benefactor, Hofstadter, the man who leaves him the remote island, is described as a miserable character. Hofstadter has lost his larynx to throat cancer. "Every so often," Ducker writes, "he removed the apparatus that hooked his mechanical box to the muscles in his throat, exposing the dressed O in his neck, and plugged in a cigarette."

Just when it seems that Mooney's life is too depressing to bear, a young woman enters the picture. It is a midlife crisis, after all. And Mooney admits that she's probably younger than his own daughter.

I won't give away too much, but the young woman, Arden, is a breath of fresh air in the story. A slightly flaky Bohemian adventurer, she becomes the catalyst Mooney needs to change. And man, do things begin to change.

This is the hard part of any review: assessing a book without giving away the ending. I'll just say that Ducker builds the story to a fantastic crisis that forces Mooney to question his mantra, "Don't get mad, don't get even, just get out." The novel would make a great screenplay (a cross between Cast Away and Barfly). Mooney is a powerful character in that his passivity and his depression are real. His faults are revealed not only in his own estimation, but also in the way the other characters (especially his wives and children) relate to him.

Overall, the story is a gripping, imaginative read. The key players—Mooney's missing family, his strange benefactor and the tropical island—come together in intriguing ways. I found myself, at the end of the book, rooting for Mooney to get on out there and face his life fully, possibly for the first time.

©Copyright 2005, Rocky Mountain News. All Rights Reserved

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Mooney in Flight
Bruce Ducker

By DeGrassi, Robin
Published: Wednesday,
January 21, 2004
Denver Post

Mooney in Flight, by Colorado Book Award-winning author Bruce Ducker, is about a man who is unable to cope with his life, a seemingly familiar ailment among middle-aged men. This story is not your typical mid-life crisis saga, however. For example, most people trying to escape the shambles of their lives might choose to drink themselves into oblivion in the comfort of their own home. But why drink yourself to death at home when you can do it on your own private island?

The main character, Leonard Mooney, stumbles upon this perfect opportunity to leave his troubles behind in a kind of self-imposed exile when his friend dies and leaves him a deserted island somewhere in the Caribbean. Through flashbacks, Mooney's past slowly and mysteriously develops until we can see straight to the root of his extreme emotional detachment. However, in his present situation on the island, Mooney experiences a slightly hallucinatory life—slowly becoming nocturnal, living on rum, talking to plants and inexplicably deciding to carve a landing strip out of the sand.

In time, something comes along to shake up his hermitage. This disruption arrives in the form of two people who see his landing strip from the air and, being the type to avoid documentation at commercial airports, take advantage of the safe haven that Mooney has inadvertently offered. The couple's presence adds a good amount of paranoia and drama to Mooney's life and ultimately forces him to reevaluate the decisions that have brought him to the island. The events that follow are entertaining and suspenseful, but not as rich and meaningful as the story of his first wife and children that is threaded throughout the book.

It's hard to admire a man like Leonard Mooney, but Bruce Ducker has managed to create a character that inspires hope rather than pity. Mooney in Flight is a satisfying and touching story from this local author.

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MOONEY IN FLIGHT PRESS RELEASE

MacAdam/Cage Publishing
SAN FRANCISCO * DENVER

NEW TITLE ANNOUNCEMENT

FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE
DATE: September 2003

Contact: Tasha Kepler
Phone: 303-753-7565
Email: tasha@macadamcage.com
---------------------------------------------

Mooney in Flight
By Bruce Ducker

SAN FRANCISCO, CAMacAdam/Cage is pleased to announce the publication Mooney In Flight by Bruce Ducker (MacAdam/Cage, October 2003, Hardcover $22.00). He is the author of several other novels: Bloodlines, Marital Assets and Lead Us Not Into Penn Station.

Much like life, the story of Mooney In Flight walks a fine line between comedy and tragedy. Leonard Mooney has decamped to a deserted island willed to him by a friend. While this may seem like a dream come true to the most of us, for Mooney armed with time, scenery and one too many bottles of rum, the island turns into a boxing ring for the army of personal ghosts that have accompanied him on the trip. Alone with his thoughts on his adored ex-wife and alienation from his children, Mooney is clearly a bewildered man. As he is on the verge of insanity a plane breaks his solitude and delivers not only a couple of extra inhabitants, but also an opportunity for him to change.

Mooney In Flight takes a dark and comic look at the middle aged male and the escape that so many of them seek in drink, fantasy or work, into anything but responsibility and empathy.

The Los Angeles Times commenting on Ducker's writing has said, “who'd have thought an attorney could write so lyrically, so allusively, so in tune with the quotidian...…a fine piece of work. Ducker brings [the landscape] singularly, almost cinematically alive...”

Bruce Ducker was born in New York City. He has practiced corporate law for most of his career and is the founding partner of a Denver law firm. He has authored seven novels, including Bloodlines, Marital Assets and Lead Us Not Into Penn Station. The last was the winner of the Colorado Book Award.

MacAdam/Cage Publishing was founded as an independent trade publisher in 1998 with the aim of publishing new books of quality fiction and non-fiction. The company is committed to bringing new and talented voices to the literary marketplace. Mooney In Flight is one of sixteen titles from MacAdam/Cage's fall 2003 releases.
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Mooney in Flight
by Bruce Ducker
October 2003
Hardcover, $22.00
ISBN: 1-931561-52-4

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 
 
   
   
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