Thanks to Holland Park Press for the review copy.
Cities are teeming with life, so many different people, so many different voices – and so naturally they are deep in stories, and He Runs the Moon a collection of stories by Wendy Brandmark acknowledges this, subtitled Tales from the cities, the collection takes us to three different US cities. Short story writing is an art and Wendy Brandmark is a superb storyteller, here each story is well crafted. Endings come at just the perfect moment, lovely twists in the exploration of relationships (one of my favourites between a girl and her car a red mustang) leave the reader wanting just a little more – but are sufficient to fully satisfy. I’m not going to talk about each story in this collection – as I think it would take too long – and be a little dull – there are a lot of overlapping themes.
“After hours spent gleaning and writing, we meet up in the afternoon beneath a sky blue as the virgin’s dress. Dry blue with never a tear. ‘Heaven’s hell,’ Ruthie calls Denver.”
(From – The Denver Ophelia)
Wendy Brandmark is a new author to me, although this is not her first book, she is also the author of two novels, The Angry Gods and The Stray American.
Capitol Hill, Denver, The Bronx, New York and Boston are the cities we explore in this collection, the time the 1950’s 60’s and 70’s. We meet the people of these cities, apartment dwellers, students, grandparents, book sellers, a dental hygienist and members of the Jewish community. This collection is organised into three sections, one for each city -: The Denver Ophelia, The Borders of My Self, and He Runs the Moon.
Many characters in these stories are at a point of change in their lives, growing up, finding out things they didn’t know before. In the first section of stories, thieves and predatory males live alongside those city dwellers whose rootlessness make them outsiders – having moved from one place to another, they don’t yet fit. In The Denver Ophelia, two women rifle through the clothing at their local Salvation Army store – looking for clothes to impress a professor. My Red Mustang; a young woman develops a relationship with her car – with which she has endless trouble. In Irony a university creative writing professor who indulges in inappropriate relationships with pretty young students, finds his standing with his class undermined by a new student. In a wonderfully strange story The Palm of my Mind an astrologer who reads palms, meets a woman convinced she will die that year. In The Book Thief a book seller is determined to put an end to the shoplifting that has been taking place at The One Hand Bookstore.
“I find Cindy’s house just off Colfax, a shambling clapboard place, yellow fading and garbage in the front yard. I’m thinking she could be a danger but I’m a foolhardy girl. It’s how I got together with Tomas who caught me sauntering around the Mission in San Francisco. She opens the door to her one room. Bed in the corner, kitchenette but no smell of cooking. An all together room, hard and cold as if no life was ever lived there.”
(from – The Palm of Mind)
The stories in the second section The Borders of My Self – concern coming of age stories. Set in New York, the author recreates the atmosphere of the Jewish community of this period, people damaged or merely worn out – memories of the war years never explicitly talked about but somehow always there. The stories of ‘over there’ are part of the people who live in this area of New York, permeating the lives they live in America. There are links between these stories and the people we meet in them, creating a wonderfully atmospheric sense of place and community. In The Stone Woman, probably my favourite story in the whole collection, a young girl is scared by ‘the witch’ who lives in the basement, who has strange numbers on her arm. A seven-year-old only child – Anna stays with her grandparents while her mother has a baby – and has a lot of adjustments to make, and things still to learn. In Where Have you Been, Saul a furniture upholsterer is tempted into a relationship with a woman who comes into his shop.
“He feared she was losing her words and soon would speak in some other language. He didn’t like to ask her about the other side, where she had come from before, who she had been in that place. He had a second cousin who had been in a displaced person’s camp after the war and laughed all the time.”
(From Where Have you Been)
The final section of stories; He runs the Moon, four stories from Boston concern the frailties in people’s relationships. In these stories there is a slight feeling of uncertainty, the events in the lives of these people could so easily spiral out of control. We meet the users of a museum members room – in a story entitled Vagabond – who until the arrival of a rebel in their midst had never spoken to each other. A dental hygienist in The Other Room becomes obsessed by a patient who doesn’t show up for his appointment. Miss Wick is a revered hygienist – no one ever misses their appointments, sending notes of apology should they be surprised by going into premature labour for instance. So when Mr Silverman doesn’t appear – Miss Wick can’t fathom it – and her wondering Mr Silverman the missed appointment begins to take over her life.
He runs the Moon is an excellent collection of stories, giving voice to the people of these cities and in so doing to the cities themselves.