Sunday, August 21, 2016

Book Review: "The Dream Life of Astronauts: Stories" by Patrick Ryan

So let me make one thing clear before you make the decision whether or not to read this collection of short stories based on the title: despite taking place at or around Cape Canaveral (in some cases simply in the same Florida county), the majority of these stories have nothing to do with astronauts.

While a few have the space program as a narrative thread within them (or at least mention something space-related in passing), for the most part, these well-written stories are about people who find themselves at a crossroads in their lives. Some are emotional, some are thought-provoking, and at least one was laugh-out-loud funny, and a few are interconnected with others in the collection.

Among my favorites in the collection were: "Earth, Mostly," in which a woman who is raising her granddaughter finds herself assigned to a driver's ed class after a traffic accident and is attracted to the instructor; "Go Fever," which is about a man whose coworker is convinced his wife is poisoning him (but that's just the tip of the iceberg); "Miss America," in which an aspiring Miss America contestant is taken to an audition with a less-than-reputable talent scout, while she is dealing with upheaval in her own life and her mother's; "Fountain of Youth," about a man in witness protection from the Mafia now living in a retirement community and matching wits with the power-hungry head of the condo board; "The Way She Handles," which tells of a young boy whose parents' marriage hits a rough patch with the arrival of his carefree uncle; and the beautiful title story, in which a young man is drawn to a former astronaut and is unprepared for what comes next.

While one or two of the stories didn't resonate for me as much as the ones I mentioned above, Patrick Ryan is a tremendously talented writer, and he created some memorable characters and situations I really enjoyed reading about. Although I felt that a few of the stories could have taken place anywhere and the connection with Cape Canaveral almost felt like an afterthought, it is the foibles of the human heart and our interactions with lovers, colleagues, family members, children, and strangers that powered these stories and imbued them with impact.

I am continually amazed at the immense talent among those individuals writing short stories today, and Ryan definitely belongs in this community. If you like short stories, this is a collection worth reading, even if you're not a space enthusiast. I look forward to seeing what's next in his career.

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