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Dark of the Moon

(Critical Survey of Contemporary Fiction)

Merdie Lee tells the story of what happens to her life when her husband Hamp captures a revenuer and holds him hostage so Hamp can continue his moonshine whiskey operation. The setting is the flatwoods of the Okefenokee swamp in southern Georgia, and the locals are isolated from the rest of the world and from each other. They are people whose lives seem stunted and cruel.

Hamp is a mean-spirited, taciturn old man, but Merdie has stayed with him for years, rearing their sons and his sons from a previous wife. Hamp does not know that Merdie has aspirations for a music career, that she and her boys sing for pay at various shoddy entertainment spots, or that she has a vague plan to get the boys out of the rot of the flatlands. When Hamp spots an outsider poking around in the area, he assumes he is a revenue agent who will close down the illegal whiskey still. For reasons he himself cannot fathom, Hamp ties him up and confines the man in their house. He makes Merdie responsible for seeing to it that the revenuer does not escape.

As the weeks go by, the revenuer becomes “Mac” to Merdie and they fall into a passion neither has previously experienced. Their secret night hours together are played out against the backdrop of Hamp’s instability and the plentiful shotguns that are always loaded.

The characters—even Merdie—are far from likable and are not people with whom most readers would empathize. Nevertheless, Daugherty manages to build and sustain an interest in their fate, perhaps because Merdie in her backwoods dialect narrates the events without pity, without romanticizing. There are moments of emotion that pull Merdie along as surely as the force of gravity that she associates with “the dark of the moon” pulls the tides.