Islands on the Moon

by Barbara Kingsolver
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Last Updated on May 6, 2015, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 746

Annemarie, a single mother, lives in a trailer park in Tucson, Arizona, where her parents moved from New Hampshire for her father’s health when she was a child. Her father, whom she remembers fondly, died less than a year later, leaving his wife, Magda, and Annemarie to fight poverty alone. With all their money spent on getting to Arizona, the mother and daughter could not return to New Hampshire. It is one of Annemarie’s many regrets.

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Annemarie has just received a note from her forty-four-year-old mother, announcing that she is pregnant. Magda is an environmentalist and activist who wears pure cotton dresses and makes necklaces from the lacquered vertebrae of nonendangered species. Annemarie herself is also pregnant, although Magda does not know about it, and Annemarie sees her mother’s pregnancy as a way to upstage her. Before receiving the news of her mother’s pregnancy, Annemarie had not spoken to her mother in months, although their mobile homes are only one hundred feet from each other. Magda has been waiting until Annemarie stops sending her negative energy. She breaks her silence, however, to ask Annemarie to take her to a clinic for amniocentesis.

Annemarie’s best friend is Kay Kay, a diminutive but independent locomotive driver. In the days before taking her mother to the clinic, Annemarie confides in Kay Kay. Annemarie thinks her mother is too old to be having a baby and fears that her son, Leon, will take her mother’s side, and that she will be abandoned. Kay Kay reminds Annemarie that many mother-daughter relationships are problematic, citing her own mother as an example, but Annemarie feels hopeless where her mother is concerned. In these conversations with Kay Kay, Annemarie also talks about her relationship with Buddy, her former husband and the father of her son. Buddy wears braids in imitation of Willie Nelson, has flames painted on the hood of his car, and once drove off to Reno with another woman after Annemarie paid to have his car repaired. Annemarie is considering marrying him again, now that she is pregnant.

Annemarie picks up her mother on a Saturday. They immediately begin arguing about Annemarie’s hair, after Magda offers her a new shampoo to try. It is apparent that Annemarie has a chip on her shoulder; anything her mother says sounds like a criticism to her. At the clinic, the doctor performs a sonogram before the amniocentesis. While the mother and daughter watch the tiny life on the television screen, Annemarie finally realizes that Magda’s pregnancy is not a plot against her; it is Magda’s future. This is the beginning of a change in the way Annemarie relates to her mother.

On the way to pick up her son, Leon, from Little League practice, Annemarie discovers that her mother’s pregnancy is not an accident but a planned event. They find Leon at the park and head home. Distracted by a discussion between Leon and Magda about famous Leons in general and Leon Trotsky’s death in particular, she runs a stop sign and there is a collision. Annemarie, who is not wearing a seat belt, finds herself lying across her mother’s lap, her head out the window and Magda’s arms tight across her chest. Leon has been thrown from the car but is unharmed. In the ambulance on the way to the hospital, Annemarie tells her mother that she, too, is expecting a child.

The doctor, amazed that Annemarie has escaped with only cuts and bruises, declares, “Sometimes the strength of motherhood is greater than natural laws.” Annemarie is left with the feeling that her life has just been handed to her anew, and that the world is waiting to see what she will do with it. At the hospital, Annemarie and Magda finally have the talk of their lives, the one Annemarie had once believed would have no beginning and no end. They talk about the day her father died and how they have always felt about each other. Annemarie finally understands her mother. When she wonders aloud how she could have been so blind to Magda’s feelings, Magda compares the two of them to islands on the moon, where there is no water, and “a person could walk from one to the other if they just decided to do it.”

Later, as her mother sleeps, Annemarie lays her hand on her mother’s swollen belly, accepting her new little sister.

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