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.
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