Published in 2014 by Brindle & Glass, The Pull of the Moon contains a dozen stories that explore the universal concepts of love, guilt, and personal growth. Paul mixes common narrators with atypical characters to create believable friction and intriguing storylines. The reader is pulled into a bustling Saturday market in “Black Forest,” confronted with child abuse in “Damage,” and left swinging on a hammock beneath a rainstorm in Belize in “Tropical Dreams.” Rich with unabashed intimacy, Julie Paul possesses the unique talent of placing readers directly in front of a full length mirror, similar to the way guests at wedding end up reflecting more on their own lives than the ones on stage in front of them. Interwoven around the theme of secrets, stand-out stories such as “Black Forest,” “Crossing Over,” “Damage,” and “Tropical Dreams” effortlessly compel readers with wit, detail, and the unveiling of universal fears through well-written, modern prose.
The Pull of the Moon commences with a piece about a peculiar young woman, Jenny, who is described as “eleven going on sixteen going on five” (1). The main character is her father, Lawrence, through whom the reader connects and sympathizes with. Lawrence undergoes a constant back-and-forth, win-lose-win scenario that keeps the reader cheering for the protagonist but uncertain if they will prevail. This is a strong literary device that Julie Paul utilizes in the majority of her stories in The Pull of the Moon. There are some vague word choices and unclear phrasing within the story: “Dessert would be fruit and ice cream. “Raspberries.” She stuck out her tongue and blew him one” (3). Despite these slightly problematic phrases, this story is a relatable transformation piece that welcomes the readers into a familiar world where significant change can be shown in as small a detail as a stare.
The tragicomic story “Crossing Over” is an utter masterpiece for its ability to swiftly transport the reader from chuckles to tears. It begins with an eccentric aunt (we all have one), who is mourning the death of her beloved feline, Fluffy. The main character, Roy, is tricked into smuggling Fluffy’s dead body across the border to give her a proper burial in her hometown. The story takes a somber turn after Fluffy’s funeral. The narrator’s interspersed stories about his wife, Marjorie, illuminate a greater sense of loss:
Just before she passed away, Marjorie had told him that golf would get him through the worst of it. He’d believed her. It had seen him through a few rough patches, and she’d been there when over the years he’d said to whomever would listen, If I didn’t have golf, I’d be dead. What a dolt. As if golf had carried him through losing his store to fire and rebuilding again, or the skin cancer scare, or the murmuring depression that set in once he retired. It was Marjorie. (41)
In a few pages, Paul draws readers into Roy’s grief and brings them to his wife’s gravestone, reverent and pensive. The theme of the piece reveals that death can be glazed over and even humorous, until the deceased is someone you loved.
The story “Damage” begins with a brilliant first line: “Mornings were heavy” (23). The piece continues in Jim’s voice, slowly revealing a conflict that is so complicated and unbelievable it perfectly reflects real life. Jim is a weak, depressed man who skirts around his struggle to overcome minute decisions that are affecting every aspect of his existence—especially his sex life. Jim feels responsible for the death of a child and is therefore unable to produce any of his own. Carl, Jim’s next-door neighbour, is a clear character foil. Confident that meek, pathetic Jim will never intervene, Carl openly abuses his children in the awkward space between their houses. The story reaches climax as a chainsaw erupts into action outside. Paul places Jim is a position where he must choose: transform, or fall deeper into his suffocating guilt. Akin to all of Paul’s characters, Jim’s choice is a complicated, layered one that keeps the reader guessing.
The story “Tropical Dreams” takes the reader to hot, sweaty, alcohol-infused Belize, with two couples that find themselves hopelessly intertwined. Paul touches on universal fears as the main character, Sue, watches her husband, Fraser, gape at the younger woman across from him. “Billy had put her peach T-shirt back on over her swimsuit, but I could hear her nipples saying, Hey, old lady, you think your husband can keep away for long?” (78). Paul uses vivid imagery to immerse the reader in the setting. This is especially apparent in the sexual tension between Billy and Sue as they lie on the hammock: “I could feel a sort of vibration from her, as though her skin could barely contain her” (91). By placing relatable characters in a foreign setting with a twisting storyline, Julie Paul expertly crafts a mountain of conflict that showcases her skills as a short story author.
The Pull of the Moon is a prime specimen of modern literary fiction. Paul takes a long, hard look at common, everyday life and all the peculiarities it possesses. Relatable yet fresh and interesting, her collection focuses around the distortion and revelation of intimate secrets. Paul’s dynamic characters experience growth, conflict, love, death, and complete transformation. All twelve stories in The Pull of the Moon are insightful and meaningful pieces. Readers of literary magazines and lovers of short fiction will find these stories introspective and enjoyable to settle into and journey through again and again, like “a slow, sweet walk” (122).