Tell Me That You Love Me, Junie Moon by Marjorie Kellogg

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(Masterpieces of American Fiction)

When Junie Moon, Warren, and Arthur decide to set up housekeeping together after being released from the hospital, it is because no one else wants them. This arrangement of convenience soon becomes a strong, three-way emotional reliance, however, when the three “freaks” move into a ramshackle house on the edge of town. Marjorie Kellogg’s short but richly textured first novel chronicles their brief life together as a trio of outcasts united against a cold and unaccepting world.

All three main characters are profoundly and permanently disabled. Junie Moon has had acid poured over her face and hands by a sexually disturbed assailant, leaving her hideously disfigured. Warren, a paraplegic confined to a wheelchair, has been unable to walk since being shot during a hunting trip in his adolescence. Only Arthur, though, faces the prospect of impending death. His terminal disease, which has baffled the countless doctors who have tried to diagnose it, makes it difficult for him to control his movements. His spasms are getting more severe, his seizures more frequent as the novel opens.

Approximately one-third of the novel takes place in the hospital where the three meet. Along with Minnie, Junie Moon’s terminally ill roommate, they provide the only color in the hospital’s bleak and depressing landscape. The patients’ lives are punctuated only by medicine calls from the authoritarian head nurse, Miss Oxford, and by Grand Rounds, a comic ritual during which overbearing doctors and sycophantic interns poke and prod the patients, asking predictable questions but never waiting for answers.

Only Binnie Farber, their sympathetic social worker, takes their communal living proposal seriously. The three seem unlikely housemates: They bicker constantly, the only thing they have in common being the fierce determination to start life anew outside the hospital. Warren finds them a house on the edge of town, which, though run-down and ill-equipped, has a certain charm: It is overshadowed by a vast banyan tree, and the trio’s closest neighbor is the tree’s resident owl, who views their arrival with territorial jealousy. Also spying on them is Sidney Wyner, who lives next door; a hateful, troublesome meddler, Sidney spends much of his time watching them through the hedge.

Adjusting to their new living arrangement is not easy. The two men disagree constantly, and the wisecracking Junie Moon can do little to mediate. Warren is lazy and imperious, Arthur distant and uncooperative. Being self-conscious about their various disabilities, the three seldom leave the house. Junie Moon’s ravaged face, only partially hidden by her sombrero, horrifies the townspeople. Their only real adventure comes when Warren, always attractive to and attracted to good-looking people, brings home Gregory, a beautiful young heiress. Gregory takes them to her home, a castle on the side of a hill, but the visit turns out badly when Junie Moon and Arthur come upon Gregory sadistically forcing Warren to try to walk.

Slowly it becomes apparent that Junie Moon and Arthur are falling in love, though neither of them knows quite how to go about it. Arthur, ashamed of accepting welfare, tries to get a job, partly to impress Junie Moon. He is almost hired by Mario, a gentle bachelor who owns a fish store, but Sidney Wyner phones Mario to tell him that Arthur is a sodomist. Dejected, Arthur disappears. Junie Moon enlists Mario’s aid and mounts a search. Arthur later turns up at the house, accompanied by a stray dog.

The novel’s final movement begins when Mario decides that the three housemates need a vacation and lends them his truck to drive to the seashore. At Patty’s Hideaway, an expensive seafront hotel, Warren...

(The entire section is 917 words.)