No, I didn’t care much for Maggot Moon either. I had similar feelings to you, so I won’t belabor it too much, but here are a few thoughts:
I’m pretty sure the waving flag “error” was a nod towards a long-held piece of the conspiracy theory about the “faking” of the Apollo 11 moon landing. NASA was aware that there would be no wind to keep the flag from hanging loosely, so they attached a crossbar to the top edge, so it would stand out and look picturesque. The conspiracy theorists, not realizing this, claim that the pictures on the moon show the flag “clearly” blowing in the wind.
But that parallel with real life actually points to one of my major problems with the book: I don’t understand why Gardner felt the need to fictionalize the story so much. I mean, it is pretty obvious (to me at least) that the setting is Soviet-era Russia (Motherland vs. the land of Croca-Colas and all that), with a slight bit of alternate-history added, but why couldn’t Gardner just come out and say that? Why did so many little details have to be changed? Why not just say the evil leader was Krushchev? The reason I ask, is that if she had set the book in the real world Soviet Union, it would have gone a long way towards alleviating your (and my) biggest criticism: the fact that, as you said, “There really weren’t any grey areas.” Giving the book a real world setting would have allowed the “bad guys” to have all the freight of the Soviets, who (despite Cold War-era propaganda to the contrary) were not black-and-white, evil-to-the-core bad guys. At the same time, fictionalizing the Soviets has the effect of making everything much less precise than it could be, in terms of who and how the apparatus of the state works.
I too didn’t think much of the dyslexia angle, and frankly, I didn’t find it particularly well-written either. I was annoyed by a lot of the imagery and figurative language:
- “in another country where the buildings don’t stop rising until they pin the clouds to the sky. Where the sun shines in Technicolor” (p. 5) — that Technicolor bit is an especially overused phrase.
- “My bones nearly jumped free from my muscles when I heard a noise in the back garden” (p. 179) — kind of seems like a new way of saying something, but ultimately yields a fairly prosaic cliche.
- “Never would I have thought that the hard-boiled Miss Phillips had such a soft, sweet center” (p. 20) — bit of a mixed-metaphor that.
I don’t mean to be unrelentingly negative here (I’ll leave that to Gardner ;)–there were aspects of the book I liked, and I did find myself sucked into the narrative by the end. But it has enough defenders, and mainly I just want to make clear why it won’t be making our Mock Printz list in the Fall.