Each of the eight short stories in this collection depicts an individual’s self-made paradise and the insidious “serpents” that conspire to ruin it. Drawing heavily from the Jewish tradition, Moss’s stories are wrought with Old Testament allusions and address the themes of temptation and fall suggested by the title.
The protagonist in “December Birthday,” 27-year-old Lotte, dreams of moving out of her overbearing parents’ house and into an apartment with friends. Moss’s vivid descriptions of the woman’s internal struggle—“she had plotted the words so often that they had gone stale before she could speak them, stillbirths of false cheer like the bell-ringing of street-corner Santas”—evoke Lotte’s sense of utter paralysis.
At times, Moss—who lives in Annapolis—is overly focused on tedious details, preventing the full development in some of her characters. “Camping In,” for example, left me wanting a better sense of Mercedes, the teenage maid, instead of an accurate mental picture of the house she cleans.
Among Moss’s diverse characters are an exiled Iranian Jew (“Rug Weaver”), a couple of historical reenactors (“Interpreters”), and a lonely widower (“The Consolations of Art”). Believable dialogue—especially among the rowdy Italian New Yorkers in “Villaclaudia” and the Orthodox Jews in “The Palm Tree of Dilys Cathcart”—is the stories’ greatest asset.
While some of the stories shine—“December Birthday,” “The Palm Tree of Dilys Cathcart,” and “The Consolations of Art” in particular—others stray far from paradise, making collection a mixed bag.
Barbara Klein Moss