Winner of the 2016 BookLife Prize in Fiction (general fiction) and 25th Annual Writer’s Digest Self-Published Book Award (mainstream/literary fiction).


First, You Swallow the Moon

At twenty-four years old, all Jack Hesley knows with certainty is he’s head over heels in love. But his life (and love) veers from center when his brother’s car careens across an icy Wisconsin interstate and into a stand of pine. Stunned by loss, Jack retreats into isolation – a depression so stubborn the only living thing forceful enough to cross its threshold arrives in the shape of wild bears. He dreams them. He becomes obsessed with them. And he alters the trajectory of his path forward, risking limb and love, and follows real bears, grizzlies, into the thick woods of western Montana to untangle their impossible message – to become one of them.

First, You Swallow the Moon is a novel about the circuitous path of grieving – a love story about love unraveled. It follows one man’s attempt to survive loss and transform the chambers of the human heart.


Critical Acclaim

“First, You Swallow the Moon by Kipp Wessel is a deftly crafted, reader engaging, modern novel of love, loss, heartbreak, redemption, wilderness, and the sometimes seemingly impossible act of letting go. A compelling read from beginning to end, First, You Swallow the Moon is very highly recommended for personal reading lists and community library General Fiction collections.”

Midwest Book Review

“First You Swallow the Moon, the debut novel by Kipp Wessel (radialGRAIN), is an ambitious and interesting work of fiction. The intriguing central premise of the book is hinted at in two short lines on the back cover: “Plan A: Survive heartbreak. Plan B: Turn self into bear.” A graduate of the University of Montana himself, Wessel’s characters thread their way through the familiar streets of Missoula and over the mountain trails of the Scapegoat Wilderness. The inner world of heartbreak that he explores is no less familiar, but there is something fresh about the path that his main character, Jack, takes into the wilderness and into very close company with bears. His work is most successful when focused on the relationship between Jack and his brother and on Jack’s inner struggle. But what could be a tired trope becomes a successful exploration of the metaphysical in Wessel’s hands, and the themes of healing and transformation take unexpected turns.”

Big Sky Journal

“Dreams of bears, and then obsession with real ones, draw grieving Jack from Minnesota to Montana. The first person narrative and the novel’s pace reflect the looping road of grief, traveled by Jack and by his girlfriend, Clare. The novel is tender, sad and, eventually, hopeful – it pulls the reader in because the characters and their plights and actions are fully believable. The prose is clean and lovely, calibrated for maximum emotional impact.”

BookLife Prize for Fiction

“First, You Swallow The Moon is an outstanding title. Odd, catchy, weirdly beautiful. What’s best about the book though is its stunning, elegant prose. There are passages of exquisite beauty, and it’s refreshing to read someone with a strikingly original voice. And what shines through as well is Wessel’s love both for his characters and for the natural world. The novel is set in a region of the United States about which I know nothing, but Wessel depicts it with beauty and simplicity. Finally, having just experienced a season of loss myself, the book was wonderfully comforting, and something of an antidote to despair. I’ve been judging this contest for years, and I don’t think I’ve read an entry this beautiful in a long time. Wessel should be very proud of this work.”

Judge, 25th Annual Writer’s Digest Book Awards

“First, You Swallow the Moon is a crafty little debut. It’s all heartbreak and obsession and not being able to see what’s right in front of your own face because you’re busy hanging on to the past. It reads like art. It feels like home. It took me places I didn’t expect it to. And you should let it take you there too.”

TNBBC’s The Next Best Book Blog

“If you’ve ever had a broken heart, read this book. Rarely have I seen the crazy-making pain and sorrow of losing someone you love rendered so perfectly. Kipp Wessel has written a brave, ambitious, totally captivating novel – and in the process, has done for bears what Melville did for whales.”

Paulette Alden, author of Unforgettable and Crossing the Moon

“Wessel is a keen observer of interior turmoil and exterior places, and he writes about the natural world with florid grace and insight. This is an excellent first novel to think about and savor, and I’m already eager for the next one.”

Kent Nelson, author of The Spirit Bird: Stories and Land That Moves, Land That Stands Still

“First, You Swallow the Moon is a tender exploration of the isolation and wildness of grief, and the way it returns us to our animal selves. The moody, magical backdrop of the frozen Montana forests and Jack’s slow, painful retreat from the human world create a vivid and memorable story for anyone who has suffered heartbreak and loss.”

Eleanor Brown, author of The Weird Sisters and The Light of Paris