The Subway Stops at Bryant Park is a collection of short stories written by N. West Moss. Reading it is a unique experience.
Moss creates vivid characters – a Pakistani immigrant, a young college girl, an old woman of questionable mental capacity, and other unforgettable folk. At first I felt a lack of drama in the stories, especially in the endings, but they appear together in a larger picture that includes the main character of the book, Bryant Park itself, and that changes everything.
Some characters work in the park, others visit it briefly, the same statue of Gertrude Stein is experienced by different characters, likewise the pianist who comes once a week to play there, and birds, and the plants.
The park is a changing but unmovable presence, mired in garbage at times, dressed up for a party at others. In the first story, “Omeer’s Mangoes,” the park goes from lowbrow to highbrow over Omeer’s adult lifetime. After reading this story, it is easy for the reader to locate the park chronologically for the later stories.
Moss is deft with her descriptions and has a particular facility with fresh similes and metaphors: “The patients looked like white-haired birds, perched in their wheelchairs, their mouths wide open, waiting for food and pills to be dropped in,” or “Her enormous fat rolls spilled out from underneath her shirt, smooth and round as a wet otter.” The language itself is a delight.
Life and death, poverty and wealth, music, drama, poetry all drift through Bryant Park, pulling in the life around it. It exists in memory, in anticipation, and in contemporaneous action. The soft endings to each story only emphasize that each life puffs in and out of the park, then moves on, while the park itself remains eternal, or as eternal as things can ever be in New York City.