Faces in the Moon: A Novel - Betty Louise Bell

Faces in the Moon is the story of three generations of Cherokee women, as viewed by the youngest, Lucie, a woman who has been able to use education and her imagination to escape the confines of her rootless, impoverished upbringing. When her mother’s illness summons her back to Oklahoma, Lucie finds herself confronted with the legacy of a childhood she has worked hard to separate from her adult self.

Her mother, Gracie, and her maternal aunt, Auney, are members of the Cherokees’ "lost generation," women who rejected the traditional rural ways in search of a more glamorous life as autonomous working women.






Faces In The Moon introduces the reader to generations of women within one Native American family and explores the varied feelings between them regarding their culture. While some of the women completely embrace their heritage, others are uncomfortable with it, preferring to present themselves in a more Caucasian way, at least in public. One woman, Gracie, tries to disguise her Native American features by dying her hair blonde, shaving her eyebrows down, drawing them back in. She believes this looks more womanly than her natural look. Her fixation on her looks seeps into her relationship with her daughter, Lucie. Lucie sadly takes a lot of heat from her mom, having to endure statements like "You're plain... better be smart."


Davis was a few wooden buildings, a general store with a bus stop in front, and The Shack, a restaurant specializing in breakfast and lunch. Inside, dozens of white farmers milled around, sitting on stools at the counter or standing in place, drinking coffee and smoking cigarrettes. Aunt Bertha and Lizzie walked past with their heads down and turned away. Lucie hesitated at the window and two farmers looked up and waved to her. Lucie smiled and waved. 


"Don't go encouraging 'em," Lizzie said, taking her arm. "That ain't no place for us."


"Why?" Lizzie asked, incredulous.


"Why? You're different, that's why."


The child thought a moment. "Why?"


"Lordy, you're too little to have all these questions."


"That's just when they do have 'em." Aunt Bertha said. 


Lizzie kept the child by the hand, "Sister, I don't mean to be mean, but people who ask a lot of whys usually end up with hard lives. Ya listening?"



Lucie also battles harsh treatment from her mother's revolving door of boyfriends -- some alcoholic, some abusive. When Gracie becomes deeply involved with one man in particular, the man moves in and things almost instantly become tense between him and Lucie. Not only does Gracie's white boyfriend express racist sentiments toward Lucie, but there is also subtext that suggests that some sort of sexual assault might have been carried out on Lucie. Eventually the boyfriend makes the ultimatum that either Lucie has to leave or he will, so Gracie packs up Lucie and takes her to live with Great-Aunt Lizzie. All the way to Lizzie's house, Gracie is berating her daughter (as well as drinking while driving, btw -- class act, that one) -- cursing Lucie for her "selfish" behavior, telling her, "all you had to do was be nice to him... well, your days of milk and honey are over.."


Lizzie and her husband, Uncle Jerry,  live out on a farm where, for what seems like the first time in Lucie's life, Lucie is able to sleep in a real bed rather than a pallet on the floor, as well as get solid meals and clean clothes every day without fail, not to mention just the overall safe environment a rural farm provides, compared to what Lucie was coming from! Funny thing is, Lucie is surprised to realize that even with all this, she still misses her mom. 


Uncle Jerry went to his radio, and Lucie sat on the floor between the radio and Lizzie on the couch. The old woman sewed and the old man and child listened for every word from the Motorola. Uncle Jerry advised Amos in his schemes, counseled women in the soap operas, knew a fib when he heard one, believed the Shadow was invincible, and always greeted the Lone Ranger with the same objection. "Now whoever heard a Indian named Tonto? There's Frank Sixkiller and George Cornsilk and Murray Bell. But I ain't never heard a no Indian named Tonto."


The child thought it over and one night explained, "Maybe he's an old Indian. Like those Indians in the movies?"


The old man thought it over. "Maybe. He musta been from outta state."


The first part of the story focuses on these early years. Later on it fast forwards into present time when Lucie is now a grown woman and literature professor, embarrassed to ever be reminded of her mother's 3rd grade education. Lucie is called back home when her mom has to be hospitalized for a lengthy time. When not sitting with her mother in the hospital, Lucie spends time at her mom's house, taking care of the place and thinking back on the traumas and heartaches of years past, reflecting on how far things have come.


While this story might not have been the most exciting as far as plot action goes, I did think it was good as a general character study kind of look into the intricacies of a family, how we can't choose our genetic families and how some of us seriously pull short straw when it comes to ideal home situations, but how we can also dedicate ourselves to doing the best for our own lives. Finding ways to make peace with life's disappointments, acknowledging the blessings, however small they might seem. 


As far as specific characters that spoke to me, I think my favorite was Uncle Jerry. Gotta love that he seemed so unruffled by life, one of those unwavering optimists that could easily find joy and humor in nearly anything. Given what Lucie was struggling with in her mind and home life, I think he was the perfect balm to keep her sane and grounded during a really challenging time. Also, given that I have Native American heritage myself, I did enjoy all the jokes made about the dangers of angering a Native woman (the NA women making the jokes themselves, btw) -- "Ain't nobody meaner than an Indian woman that's been crossed."