The Big Moose Prize Winner

Children and Lunatics

Publication Date: August 2016


Winner of the 2015 Big Moose Prize

In Children and Lunatics, the 21st century is new and fragile, the center barely holding. Wars, terrorists, and hurricanes are on TV.  A silent street person and a suburban mother share intimate spheres of love and grief and odd obsessions, although they barely meet.  As their paths converge, an eerie world hovers, casting shadows and flickering lights, igniting fears and dreams.


One day it was a two-story house with a sun porch. Another time it was a white painted brick house with a columned front porch and a stone bench. Each time, just looking had the feel of going, going in, she heard an imaginary bell, a signal, cross the line, careful, proceed, step through…

There were high cirrus clouds on this particular day, long wisps against the palest blue. A faint breeze. A hint of smoke, still lingering from the forest fires of the summer. It was on the cusp, the sky, the air, the day. It was on a fulcrum, balanced between all that had happened and what was yet to come.

After acknowledging her house (two-story stucco, shaded, with half a fence out front and lumber tossed here and there on the lawn, as if more building were in progress), she walked up the angled sidewalk that led to the front door under an archway flanked by bushes. The porch was made from stones. A small brass dog stood next to a bristled mat. A collar hung around the dog’s neck. It said “Attack Dachshund.” The bell made a chiming sound when she pushed it, and a delayed summons emitted from deep within.

She listened to the chime and to a plane that droned in the sky, far overhead, and to a distant call of a train. She could feel her heart beating. It made her entire body move, slightly, like a tree stirred by a breeze. She pressed the black button again, and heard the chime a second later, and she waited. The jet’s monotone receded into silence. The train remained, its presence a rhythmic thrum. Brown flowers in a pot moved just perceptibly in the late-autumn air. She turned the knob and gently pushed. The door swung open and let her in.


Children and Lunatics pieces together a nightmare landscape-the one we all live in. It’s recognizable, strange, and subtly frightening. You can’t lay this book aside unchanged.

-Rick DeMarinis, author of The Year of the Zinc Penny

Megan McNamer’s Children and Lunatics reminds us that madness is created by life’s tragedies and that comfort is found in the most ordinary of places: every third house on a block, a chair, a thrift store purse, a cafe table. We are taken on a skillful journey full of mystery and sadness while being reminded that it is our connection to one another that keeps us from total despair. McNamer’s two central characters are nameless, which means they might be anyone, they are our invisible neighbors, and our potential friends and saviors. There are acts of kindness and acts of violence in this book and I cared so much for the characters that I couldn’t stop reading, and I couldn’t stop hoping for their salvation.

-Mary Jane Nealon, author of Beautiful Unbroken, winner of the Bread Loaf Writers’ Conference Bakeless Prize

About the Author

Megan McNamer

Megan McNamer grew up in northern Montana and studied music at the University of Montana and ethnomusicology at the University of Washington. Home Everywhere (Black Lawrence Press, 2018) is her second novel. Her first novel, Children and Lunatics (Black Lawrence Press 2016) won the Big Moose Prize. Essays and stories have appeared in Salon, Sports Illustrated, The Sun, Tropic Magazine (of The Miami Herald), Islands Magazine, Headwall, Cutthroat Magazine, and a number of anthologies, and have won awards from New Millennium, Glimmer Train, Writers@Work, the University of New Orleans Writing Contest for Study Abroad, Travelers' Tales Best Travel Writing Solas Awards for 2016, and Carve Magazine's Raymond Carver Short Story Contest for 2016. Megan lives in Missoula, Montana and plays Balinese music with the community gamelan Manik Harum.

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