The Pull of the Moon, by Julie Paul, Brindle & Glass
In The Pull of the Moon, Julie Paul’s short stories take place in the contemporary world, her characters derived from the everyday; mothers, fathers, boyfriends, neighbours, librarians. This seemingly conventional framework is, however, but a brilliant deception. There is an edge to Paul’s writing that steadily reveals itself in each story. Humour, sensuality, and a healthy measure of darkness are also important components of Paul’s entertaining and thoughtful stories.
The premise behind “Adios” is an account one might hear from a friend, over the telephone, beginning with the line, You’ll never guess what happened to my poor neighbour. In this story, the neighbour in question is Fred Poole, elderly, in the midst of recovering from a stroke. While out walking, Fred is hit and killed by a car. A simple tragedy on the surface, but in Paul’s hands, much more is uncovered. We learn the Pooles do not believe in medicine: Fred’s stroke never resulted in a visit to the hospital. His ongoing recovery was aided by faith and prayer, “an opportunity for the congregation to work together.” Then there is the matter of the story’s single-mother narrator, who is wracked with guilt for being in too much of a hurry to steer Fred home when she encountered him minutes before the accident. She is consoled by her imaginary (yes, imaginary) husband, Jonathan, who appears in the narrator’s mind with enough frequency that “a whole scene – a whole life – unfolds.” Paul is adept at quietly building the external and internal aspects of her stories, alternating seamlessly between the two.
Julie Paul is impressively versatile with gender. Of the twelve stories in The Pull of the Moon, six are written from the perspective of a female character, and six from the point of view of a male. Beyond the raw numbers, Paul proves equally effective writing in either voice. She is not one to compartmentalize the sexes either, favouring nuance over generalization. Some of Paul’s male characters are cruel and boyish, others sensitive and nurturing. Similarly, the women display a wide array of personalities, from assured to timid, from compassionate to psychotic. Whatever the case, Paul treats her characters to equal parts damage and dignity, deploying them into worlds of their own making.
Sex is an important subject in The Pull of the Moon. As with gender, Paul writes sex well and in a convincing variety of shades. In “Flip” (this reviewer’s favourite story in the collection), timid Claudia navigates a colleague’s unexpected yet sincere flirtations and her own struggles with self-esteem. Despite her insecurities, Claudia possesses genuine desires – and thus Paul creates a genuine character – and, in stages, begins to welcome and even seek out Rodger’s attentions. This delightful love story also features an abundance of penis imagery, both tangible and symbolic, and Paul proves fearless in balancing the sensuous with a sense of humour.
“Viable” is another story in which sex plays a major role. Hockey-playing high school student Stavros receives an odd but tempting proposition from his girlfriend’s mother. In the hands of a less perceptive writer, the scenario risks turning into a trifling, if erotic, tale. Paul, however, employs feeling and intelligence to construct a story that is about much more than just sex. And, happily, everyone still gets off in the end.
Following 2008’s The Jealousy Bone, The Pull of the Moon is Julie Paul’s second collection of short fiction. This is writing of emotional veracity with an edge, of humour alongside gravity, of darkness tempered with blithe optimism. The pull of Julie Paul is powerful.
Mark Paterson is the author of the short story collections A Finely Tuned Apathy Machine and Other People’s Showers.
– photo: Kipp Baker, Flickr Creative Commons