Let’s face it: short story collections can be a tough sell. Even the best of them include a few clunkers. Some even throw in some unpublished fragments: bits of what might have been a novel (novella?), but didn’t quite flesh out. Perhaps more importantly, they tend to lack an underlying theme that somehow unites them. But Patrick Ryan’s new short story collection, The Dream Life of Astronauts, is different. These are undeniably short stories: superb, classically-constructed short stories. The common theme that unites them is geographic: all of these stories take place a few miles from the Kennedy Space Center. The net result is a smooth, enjoyable read and one of the best short story collections this queer reader has read in a long, long time.
Astronauts play a direct role in only one of the stories in this collection, but what happened in that region of the country was so extraordinary that it seems to resonate with everyone in these stories. And Mr. Ryan knows this region well: a quietly American enclave that sometimes resembles rural Wisconsin more than the sunny beachside stereotypes so often associated with Florida.
Beneath the surface there is another connecting theme to these stories: namely, empathy. Whether he is writing of a teen-aged boy with a crush on an astronaut, a grandmother contemplating an affair with her driving instructor, a teen-aged girl wanting to become Miss America or a mobster living in a retirement community, Mr. Ryan renders these stories with compassion. Though frequently humorous, the reader never laughs at these characters. Instead, we find ourselves cheering on their aspirations–not unlike the space mission itself.
Needless to say, Queer Reader strongly recommends this book.
Patrick Ryan’s The Dream Life of Astronauts is published by The Dial Press.