The flint eventually struck and the makeshift torch was set ablaze. Ua Kaula‘ela‘e o Honua‘ula gave a small, frightened scream. The child, named after the cloudless rain of the area of her birth, squeezed out, “He maka! I saw the face, the face of a woman in the fire.”
Her father quieted her. “Ua, you are tired and see things that come to your mind in fire and clouds.”
‘Elei‘o stopped her. “Let’s go! We’re all very tired.”
It was a bright, sunny day as I read “The Cave of Whispering Spirits,” but every hair on the back of my neck was standing on end. The story about the wrath of Pele is one of a collection of seven short stories written by acclaimed Maui playwright Wayne Moniz.
Although Moniz has three books and numerous plays under his belt, Under Maui Skies is his first attempt at short story writing, and the results are thoroughly enjoyable.
“Seven stories, seven genres, seven time periods, seven Maui locations” is how he describes the contents. Each tale is so unique that it’s easy to pick one for a quick read, depending on whether you’re in the mood for a mystery, western or romance.
Moniz’s gentle humor plays a role in all of them, especially the western “Under Maui Skies,” about a deputized cowboy’s encounter with an opium smuggler named Albert Devil (based on a real Maui character, according to Moniz’s research); and the breezy mystery, “Aloha, Sweetheart,” about a Wailuku private eye who’s framed for murder.
The different time periods are reflected with the ease of a few well-placed details, like “I reached into the icebox for a Royal...” As a playwright, Moniz is a master of dialogue, and his plots are engaging. Occasionally, the transitions and endings are a bit abrupt, such as in “Luahinepi‘i: The Climbing Woman,” when we never find out what happens to Leslie, the high school prankster: does he abandon his joke-playing?
My favorite story was “The Cruel Sun,” a tragic romance made all the more poignant when you realize the identity of the characters, a detail that Moniz saves for last. (“After the [wedding] couple reached their destination and Harriet had discarded her gown, she told Leleiohoku that she wished to take a walk, alone, along Napili Bay. The substitute groom already knew that Kaui would be waiting for her.”)
Each piece is carefully researched and dedicated to Maui na kupuna who assisted and inspired Moniz in his work. His “Notes on the Stories” are a welcome addition, since some of the tales leave you with questions as to how much was fiction and how much based on fact.
Intriguing illustrations by Wailuku artist David Sandell help to bring the stories alive. The book also includes a short collection of poems (such as the sweet “A Child Lei”) and a glossary of Hawaiian words.
These stories make a light summer read, so you can come away feeling you’ve learned something about Maui’s past, while enjoying it so much it didn’t feel like work.
Moniz will read and sign copies of his book at Barnes & Noble in Lahaina on Saturday, June 13, at 2 p.m.
5 out of 5 Shakas
Under Maui Skies
By Wayne Moniz
Koa Books, 2009