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The Dream Life of Astronauts: Stories


The Dream Life of Astronauts: Stories

Cape Canaveral, Florida is for many Americans synonymous with the space program --- the place where shuttles and astronauts leave the safety of the earth for the expanse of space. But ordinary people live and work there, and it is those ordinary lives that Patrick Ryan describes and dissects in his short story collection, THE DREAM LIFE OF ASTRONAUTS. With a wicked sense of humor and, even more, the ability to plumb the mundane for the poignant, these stories are heartfelt but never saccharine, and always pack a punch. Full of angst, sexual frustration, loneliness and, thankfully, glimmers of hope, this collection is finely crafted, thought-provoking and immensely readable.

"Full of angst, sexual frustration, loneliness and, thankfully, glimmers of hope, this collection is finely crafted, thought-provoking and immensely readable."

The nine stories fall somewhere between “slice of life” and “turning points,” a tricky middle ground that Ryan handles adeptly. The book opens with “The Way She Handles,” a peek into a tense household, the problems of which are laid bare with the arrival of a family guest. “During the summer of Watergate,” Sam’s uncle Robbie, his mother’s younger brother, comes to stay with him and his parents. Robbie is a comforting ally for alcoholic Judy but an irritation for grumpy Phil. Accusations of infidelity rock the family, and eventually Robbie has to go, leaving Sam to fend for himself as his parents’ marriage crumbles around him. These characters feel all too real in their bickering and heartbreak.

The titular story follows Frankie, a 16-year-old whose love of space and emerging sexual identity become tangled up in his feelings for a former astronaut. When Frankie is courted by Clark Evans, it seems too good to be true, and, of course, it is. Hannah, the narrator of “Summer of ’69,” is an angry and misanthropic near-adult orphan living with the family who took her in. Hannah’s animosity toward 10-year-old Ike, who has come to live with the family on their farm and orange grove, is only interrupted by the fantastical sight of the Apollo 11 shuttle arching overhead. Like most of the stories in THE DREAM LIFE OF ASTRONAUTS, it is highly charged and at times sorrowful.

Perhaps the most interesting and challenging story is “Earth, Mostly,” in which Ryan tells the story of a grandmother and granddaughter struggling individually and together. Sixty-year-old Gail finds herself raising her obstinate and moody young granddaughter, Becca, on her own. Gail, three times married but now single, treats herself with candy bars and finds Becca to be a ready scapegoat for all her disappointments and mistakes. Then each meets a man who changes her perspective and breaks down her defenses: Gail, her sexy driving instructor, and Becca, the strange and otherworldly adult son of her babysitter. Their frustration and sadness, even rage, are palpable, rising off the pages like Florida heat. In the end, however, it is those shared emotions that bring them together.

Ryan’s characters are seething. And it seems they have been seething for a long time before the stories begin. What readers are privy to are the moments when their fear, desperation, desire and love boil over. There are funny moments, too; these figures are often quick-witted and sarcastic, and find themselves in absurd situations. But make no mistake, these are serious stories told with a sharp, powerful and totally enjoyable realism.

Reviewed by Sarah Rachel Egelman on July 22, 2016

The Dream Life of Astronauts: Stories
by Patrick Ryan

  • Publication Date: August 1, 2017
  • Genres: Fiction, Short Stories
  • Paperback: 272 pages
  • Publisher: Dial Press Trade Paperback
  • ISBN-10: 0385341393
  • ISBN-13: 9780385341394