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by N. West Moss

Pub Date: May 19th, 2017
ISBN: 978-1-935248-91-0
Publisher: Leapfrog

A slim debut collection of stories that deftly slip into the lives of everyday New Yorkers.

Before it became the green-grassed oasis that it is today—complete with a skating rink and afternoon piano music—Bryant Park was crime-infested, run-down, and frequented by the less palatable denizens of the city. In this collection’s first story, "Omeer’s Mangoes," an Iranian doorman whose building borders the park witnesses the beginnings of its gentrification firsthand: “They were planning on lowering the park to ground level. Astonishing. Impossible….'If it’s not at eye level,’ Angelo explained to him, 'the police can’t look in. It’s like a secret world where all sorts of things can happen. You don’t want to know.' " But in the majority of Moss’ stories, which are set post-renovation, Bryant Park remains precisely that: a private, nestled microcosm of the city in which the vividly mundane scenes of lives play out among the plane trees. In the gorgeously nuanced "Beautiful Mom," a college-age woman is reunited with her stunning mother near the park’s “aggressively plain” Gertrude Stein statue, throwing into sharp relief both the mother’s effervescence and the narrator’s thrumming longing for her ultimately out-of-reach love. "Dubonnet" features an elderly widow who, encased in paranoia and rigidity, spurns her son’s family that lives with her—until the Bach playing at the park releases untapped sorrow from her husband’s death, leading her to view her family and surroundings in a new light. Moss’ first-person portrayal of the crotchety woman, who wraps her porcelain figurines in cellophane whenever she journeys to the park and nurses an irrational dislike for her daughter-in-law—“I don’t even like to say her name (which is Cynthia)”—is both funny and tender, one of the collection’s strengths. "Dad Died," which embodies the collection’s preoccupation with parental death, is more a melancholy love letter than story; it overshadows "Next Time," a somewhat unfocused account of a woman who must settle her father’s estate that never develops its own voice and seems more a synthesis of thematic elements from earlier, more distinct stories. But overall, Moss’ ability to probe the rich, complicated depths of those the city views as ordinary—its doormen, library workers, waitresses, and bench-sitters—and capture the profound currents of emotion found in the everyday animates this collection and makes it uniquely illuminating.

Definitely worth reading.