The Tenants of Moonbloom is an early novel that clearly showed a lot of promise. Unfortunately, the author Edward Lewis Wallant died while still in his thirties after writing completing only four novels. His most famous, The Pawnbroker, may be better known thesedays in film form. The movie version starring Rod Steiger was directed by Sidney Lumet.
It was difficult not to read The Tenants of Moonbloom as an ancestor of A Confederacy of Dunces by John Kennedy Toole. Both passed away before either could complete a full body of work, though under very different circumstances. Of course Wallant published in his lifetime while Toole did not, and Tallant wrote about Jewish New Yorkers while Toole’s milleu was New Orleans, but The Tenants of Moonbloom and A Confederacy of Dunces feature hero’s would could easily be distant cousins.
Both are ne’r-d0-well’s who rely on relatives to support them. Moonbloom works for his successful brother who owns several tenement buildings on and around New York’s Mott Street. Moonbloom, along with Toole’s hero Ignatius J. Reilly, is not a person who can really function in normal society, though he differs from Ignatius in that he does not have an outsized personality. However, like Reilly, Moonbloom himself is surrounded by outsized personalities. New York’s Mott Street offers as many colorful and dramatic minor characters as the shady sections of New Orleans did in Toole’s novel.
Like the minor characters in A Confederacy of Dunces, the supporting cast of The Tenants of Moonbloom are always on the verge to seizing the story from the hero. The first section of The Tenants of Moonbloom follows Moonbloom as he goes from apartment to apartment collecting the weekly rent from a wide range of characters, each full enough to fill their own novel.
This part of the book should have been more fun that it was. Wallant probably suffers a little in comparison to Toole because he does not have the same level of humor behind his writing. The Tenants of Moonbloom certainly has cause for pathos, but it really could have used more laughs. I don’t think the reader ever really feels sorry for anyone in A Confederacy of Dunces though plenty of the characters live lives that deserve sympathy. While I don’t think Toole laughs at his characters; he enjoys them, has fun with them, and present them to us in such a way that we can also enjoy them. Even if we wouldn’t ever want to spend time with most of them.
Wallant’s cast of tenants could have been handled in this same way. Wallant does have a sense of humor, but he gets overwhelmed in pathos by the novel’s end. Again, the characters are deserving of sympathy, but it doesn’t make for as satisfying a novel. In fact, it made some of the characters annoying when they should have been sympathetic. Instead of looking forward to the next time Moonbloom will go on his rent collecting rounds, I began to dread it some. The Tenants of Moonbloom started out almost as much fun as John Kennedy Toole’s novel but ended up being something of a chore.