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The Half Moon by Mary Beth Keane
Literary fiction

The Half Moon

Repeat author

Mary Beth Keane is back at Book of the Month – other BOTMs include Ask Again, Yes.

by Mary Beth Keane

Excellent choice

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Quick take

A husband drowning in debt and a wife grappling with infertility have their relationship tested during a winter storm.

Good to know

  • Illustrated icon, Icon_Emotional


  • Illustrated icon, Icon_LoveTriangle

    Love triangle

  • Illustrated icon, Icon_MarriageIssues

    Marriage issues

  • Illustrated icon, Icon_SuburbanDrama

    Suburban drama


Malcolm Gephardt, handsome and gregarious longtime bartender at the Half Moon, has always dreamed of owning a bar. When his boss finally retires, Malcolm stretches to buy the place. He sees unquantifiable magic and potential in the Half Moon and hopes to transform it into a bigger success, but struggles to stay afloat.

His smart and confident wife, Jess, has devoted herself to her law career. After years of trying for a baby, she is facing the idea that motherhood may not be in the cards for her. Like Malcolm, she feels her youth beginning to slip away and wonders how to reshape her future.

Award-winning author Mary Beth Keane’s new novel takes place over the course of one week when Malcolm learns shocking news about Jess, a patron of the bar goes missing, and a blizzard hits the town of Gillam, trapping everyone in place. With a deft eye and generous spirit, Keane explores the disappointments and unexpected consolations of midlife, the many forms forgiveness can take, the complicated intimacy of small-town living, and what it means to be a family.

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Free sample

Get an early look from the first pages of The Half Moon.
The Half Moon


Malcolm Gephardt could tell the bar was busy even from a block away, even from behind the filthy windshield of his Honda. The night was damp, the sidewalks along the center of town laced with dirty snow that had been refusing to melt for near a week. Most businesses had heeded the weather forecast and closed in advance of the coming storm, but when Malcolm approached the traffic light and saw his own squat, brown-shingled building at the bottom of the hill, something lifted in his chest and he leaned over the steering wheel.

“Oh,” he said aloud to his empty car. Something was different about the place tonight. He felt a pull of energy, that singular happy chaos that can only be found inside a crowded bar when the music is good, people are running into friends, and the whole place is cozy despite the bone-cold world outside. He tried to imagine himself a stranger, tried to see his place as a stranger would. His place. His. Did it look welcoming? Was it just his imagination or did the light spilling onto the street give the whole façade a faint glow? Yes, he decided as he slid neatly into his parking spot and felt a thrill of hope, of faith, shoot through him for the first time in weeks: in himself, in his town, in these people, in life, in destiny, in following one’s intuition. It was a good town, a good bar, and he was okay, he said to himself silently, like a prayer. Half Moon the old wooden sign above the door read, punctuated by a carving of a crescent moon (people loved pointing out the mistake) that had gone black and moldy over the years, and which Malcolm had scrubbed and then retouched with bright white paint the day after the deal went through.

Tonight, there were two people outside, smoking, and another woman just standing there, shivering. A positive sign. But it meant he couldn’t go around to the side entrance because they’d spotted him, were already lifting their chins to him, and now as he approached he had to say all the things: how’s it goin how you feelin looking good yeah more snow coming what a winter I guess nobody’s goin nowhere for the weekend hope to god we don’t lose power what’ll we do without the TV ha ha ha. He had to shake hands, kiss the women hello, pretend he didn’t know what they were talking about when they asked how he was doing, and made serious faces. And when he told them he was good, he was fine, as if he didn’t know what they could be referring to, he had to do a better job pretending when they asked him again not ten seconds later.

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Why I love it

I love a novel with a compressed time frame; it always makes for a heightened sense of drama and tension. The Half Moon takes place over the course of a single tumultuous week of a cracked marriage. It’s a novel imbued with an electric undercurrent that had me flipping rapidly, totally immersed through its pages.

At the heart of this story are Malcolm and Jess, a recently separated married couple grappling with some major life hurdles. Malcolm has transitioned from being the longtime manager to newly minted owner of a small town bar, the Half Moon. But in order to buy the bar, Malcolm took on serious debt from a not entirely trustworthy source, and bills are starting to pile up. Jess, on the other hand, has been grappling with infertility and her evaporating dreams of motherhood after another failed round of IVF. This on top of her demanding job as a New York City corporate lawyer. Their story movingly asks: how much pain and hurt can a relationship carry before it founders?

Mary Beth Keane is a masterful chronicler of the human heart and the messy, moving dynamics of family. The Half Moon is a must read. You will come away from it emotional, a little raw, and reminded that where there is love present, pockets of hope can always be found.

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Member ratings (8,398)

  • Brenda K.

    Marathon, WI

    I never read the description wasn’t sure where this was going - it was a well written story about life. The up’s, the down’s and the in between’s and how you chose to make it work-you choose 4-ever.

  • Dawn M.

    Somerville, AL

    A great read about the complexities of life’s most important relationships-marriage, friendship, family, and work. I loved how well written the characters were and that they felt like people you know.

  • Elida L.

    Union Grove, WI

    2nd book I’ve read from this author and it was exceptional. Described all the ups and downs of relationships. The things not said and the obstacles that come in marriage. Malcolm & Jess are like us!

  • Laura K.

    McLean, VA

    What a great book! I love the way the author writes, the way she unspools the story. The character development is incredible. The story engaging. It’s satisfying on so many levels. Loved every page!

  • Morgan Z.

    Crofton, NE

    Jess & Malcolm are great characters! I enjoyed this book, but I mostly like it, due to Jess’s infertility issues like myself. A book of putting closure on their current life & choosing a new journey!

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