by Ryan Stone
told me his dog was worth $5000. We were on the front porch that
faced an open lot across the street. The dirt blew off the yard and
spun in the wind. His wife kept coming out on the porch and offering
us water, which we both refused, me because he did. She kept saying,
Don’t listen to anything
he says. He’s an idiot and
going back in the house with the screen door banging behind her. He
shook his head each time and shrugged at me."
by Daniela Norris
collection brings together stories that have been previously
published in literary magazines. It resonates in a fresh and
courageous voice in the landscape of short story collections,
providing an unflinching look at small-town USA in all its
not-so-apparent glory. These stories take the reader on a journey of
discovery of human nature which goes beyond location, time or
circumstances. Written in appealing and well-crafted narrative, it is
impossible to put the book down before reading each story to its very
end, as they very quickly turn into short journeys well-worth
Beast is composed of distinct moments that build up to an unexpected
making a run south down I-55 to replenish my supply. I have Trent
with me. He has a small Swiss Army knife in his front pocket and
keeps pulling it out and digging around in his fingernails. Even
though I’m driving, I watch him as he digs dirt out, cutting
himself a little… …Trent is nervous about this whole thing. It
makes him twitch and move around like he has to piss. He’s never
bought or sold before; he’s never done much of anything before.
not evident from the humble beginning of this story that it will take
us through some unexpected twists to an even more unexpected ending.
It is a road well-worth taking – perhaps not the best one yet, but
it is definitely one of my favorites in this collection.
Everything Has Its Place we venture into the life of a couple, a sex
novelist and her not-so-successful husband, two characters that are
at once colorful and pitiful. As their life unfolds, a shadow slowly
night, when Connie comes home, we sit together on the terrace and
talk about our day. I tell her about my time in the mailroom, sorting
the mail for the Chicago Sun-Times. She tells me about her book
signing, her meeting with her agent, or something else more
extravagant than anything I have to say… …My wife has a fake
regard for the importance of life. For a sex novelist, she has very
little idea what sex means, at least in my view. She writes books
with titles like Hearts Afire and Steamy City. Some have been
bestsellers, and she has a fan base of women I will never meet.”
pulling the readers straight into the story, Stone seems to enjoy
taking them for an extended detour –
is then that I see a fireball coming down out of the sky in a gentle
descent. It is small, but it grows larger until I can see it clearly.
It is an airplane, swooping in over the city and on fire. I have an
instinct to wake Connie, but I don’t. I stay at the window most of
the night, watching out towards O’Hare airport.”
then on the story takes an unexpected turn, all the way until the
ending that leaves us wondering.
favorite tales in this collection – Best Road Yet and I Just Found
This Hat - are part of the same story: that of a son trying to cope
with his aging father’s Alzheimer. Stone manages to craft his
protagonist in such a way that the reader thinks of him as
extremely-likable and somewhat-despicable at the same time.
end of the world will be something to see. That is what I tell my
father when I take him for breakfast at the IHOP on Sundays. This is
part of our routine, something he can handle, something he may need.
While we are there, I fill his head with silly thoughts about the end
of the world, how I’ll watch from the living room television.
Switching point of view, Stone gives us a totally different
perspective of what is happening with this same aging father and his
at IHOP, he tells me to shut up. He tells me flat out, “Shut up.
You sounds stupid.”
mother has been dead for seven years, and he has these moments when
he sounds just like her, as if she is popping right out of his
(from I Just Found This Hat)
was wrong what they were doing, forcing an old man to travel so far
in the Taurus’s cramped backseat. They tried to get him to sit up
front, but it didn’t work. He kept opening the door, so they
finally left him in the back where childproof locks kept him in. Ted
drove with Arnez in the passenger seat. A map lay between them, the
route outlines in pink highlighter. They are peanuts and potato chips
and didn’t stop. The crumbs gathered in the seat creases. The old
man snored as his white, dry tongue dangled out, steadied by his
chapped lips. The car smelled of stale, wet clothes.
prose is clean, unpretentious and at times chillingly precise. His
stories convey a strong sense of place, and provide the reader with
much material for thought. Best Road Yet is a collection which is
definitely worth reading more than once.
|Daniela Norris is a former
diplomat, turned writer. She
is the author of numerous award-winning short stories, articles and
essays, and co-author of Crossing
Qalandiya: Exchanges Across the Israeli/Palestinian Divide
(Reportage Press, UK, 2010).