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PAPA ON THE MOON by Marco North


by Marco North

Pub Date: Sept. 9th, 2022
ISBN: 978-0-9897153-3-1
Publisher: Bittersweet Editions

Indie film writer and director North probes family bonds and rifts in “a novel-in-stories” set in America’s bleak backwaters and in less affluent parts of New York City.

North grew up in part on a pig farm in upstate New York, and the 11 linked tales in this collection reflect a keen understanding of the risks and rewards of rural life. Most stories center on Paul—like his creator, a pig farmer’s son—whose life is shaped by a quest for meaning. The first tale, “Percheron,” describes a man named Walter, who’s exploring fields and finds his elderly father eviscerated by a harvesting machine. Next comes “Wild Asparagus,” which introduces Paul, whose rural pursuits include witnessing a thunderstorm as a boy. “Albino,” one of the longer stories, centers on Hitch, a guitarist who’s picking his way westward across America. Another, “The Golden Macaroni,” focuses on Trish, a chain-smoking mother and caregiver for her 35-year-old son with disabilities, Charlie, who is celebrating his birthday. The focus returns to Paul in “Cooper’s Farm,” which recalls the joys and difficulties he had growing up on a pig farm, including his evolving relationships with his father and brother. In later stories, Paul joins the Navy and works as a guard at the Central Park Zoo. Stories in this book often wrap around one another intriguingly. In “The Year of the Horse,” for example, part of the narrative shifts to rural Russia to examine the life of Paul’s alcoholic wife, Anya. That tale forms a vital keystone in the atmospheric collection, smartly linking the stories that came before.

North’s use of interconnected stories leads to an intentionally fragmented narrative, which works strongly to the advantage of the book. At times the tales are poetic shards that evoke a particular atmosphere: “Little brother sleeps under blue eyes, a tiny O at his lips, whispering his sleep dreams of fresh-cut grass and bubbles, of seashells and broken shoelaces.” At other times the narrative interweaves longer stories to develop the character of Paul, whose subtle observations of the world from childhood onward prove captivating: “The strange laughter from his father—so loud, so taken. His mother’s half caught smiles—trying to hide her teeth.” The writing may be laconic, but it enables North to create emotionally revealing tableaux using short, spare sentences: “They buried his father under cherry trees, as he had wished. Blossoms littered the moist earth and stuck to everyone’s shoes.” Over the course of the book, there are also unexpected literary forays. One gives a flâneur’s view of Manhattan that’s vaguely reminiscent of Frank O’Hara’s Lunch Poems in its preoccupation with urban miscellany: “He turned south, passing museums and tourists, hotdog carts, horse-drawn carriages, police cars, the zoo where he would not work today, old women in giant sunglasses, little boys in new suits.” Readers will be eager to understand how the stories intersect, and although some may struggle at first with the seemingly disjointed and abstract nature of the narrative, the denouement is well worth the wait.

A collection of cunningly conceived, poetically descriptive tales with layer upon layer of intrigue.