– Reviewed by T. F. Rhoden –
Sometimes the setting of stories, the barrios and backstreets and weighty avenues of childhood remembrances, prove to be as powerful to the narrative as the protagonists themselves. He Runs The Moon: Tales From The Cities by Wendy Brandmark vibrates with an urban milieu that can be both inviting and at times meaningfully oppressive. The tales here, which flitter from Denver, Colorado, to the Bronx, New York, to Cambridge, Massachusetts, are compiled together in a highly recommended collection of short stories.
All characters sharpen their speech, experiences, and epiphanies against this metropolitan whetstone.
Witnessing how the city-body becomes an agent in its own right is pleasantly hypnotizing. In the first part of seven stories set in Denver, ‘My Red Mustang’ captures this sentiment of city-as-agent well, as the female protagonist frets over what to do with an attractive-yet-unwanted automobile beyond its time, whilst street upon street of Denver comes alive to keep her vehicle in motion for just one more traffic light. This is more than just atmospheric indulgence. These kernels of urban truth dazzle in their own way as much as they hold the logic of the plot together. ‘Irony’, another story from this initial set, as well as having one of the more humourous plotlines, also works with the city of Denver as the main character struggles with some of the sodden truths of sexual iniquity.
Many of the stories in this collection were published before, in various literary journals and magazines, some a decade apart. One may have expected their collaboration here to be at times disjointed. Yet, what is fantastic is how well they work together, as if they were all always supposed to be bound in a single volume. They work almost as a novel. Again, the vibrancy of locale of the three main cities here draws the reader from one story to another, not unlike how a skilled novelist may string chapters together in succession.
The way many of these stories end is also well done. One could almost teach a class on creative writing, utilizing this collection as assigned reading on how a simple and abrupt finish can oftentimes make for a more meaningful denouement. In the second section of six stories set in New York City, ‘The Blessing’ provides a wonderfully sharp, yet equally meaningful, resolution to the story of two girls exploring the Metropolitan Museum, in as much as they explore their own budding femininity. The last tale of this middle section ‘Where Have You Been?’ also finishes smartly. This particular story’s characters are easy to empathize with—the middle class furniture salesman and his old-world-like tête-à-têtes, including a directionless advance on one of his more eccentric, female customers.
The most memorable tale is found in the final segment of four stories set in Boston. In ‘The Other Room’, the dentist as a protagonist is striking. Her inexplicable obsession following a no-show customer at her downtown office make for an unforgettable read. ‘Vagabond’ is also thoughtful and haunting in its own way.
For those who dabble in writing themselves, He Runs The Moon: Tales from the Cities by Wendy Brandmark makes one want to start immediately composing some short stories one’s self. That is not to say that Brandmark’s work suffers from any writer’s-writer affectation. But rather, the reader will be reminded of how much meaning and substance can be conveyed in such a small space through the words of an individual who knows and respects her own craft.
These stories are meant to be enjoyed, later in the evening, with one of your better whiskeys, and talked about the next day with a good friend who also loves to read.