Best Road Yet
by Ryan Stone

Press 53
First Collection

"He 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."

Reviewed by Daniela Norris

This debut 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 pursuing.

River Beast is composed of distinct moments that build up to an unexpected crescendo.

I’m 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.
It is 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.

In 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 creeps in.
At 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.”
After pulling the readers straight into the story, Stone seems to enjoy taking them for an extended detour –
It 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.”
From then on the story takes an unexpected turn, all the way until the ending that leaves us wondering.

My two 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.
The 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.

Today at IHOP, he tells me to shut up. He tells me flat out, “Shut up. You sounds stupid.”

My 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 mouth.
(from I Just Found This Hat)
Switching point of view, Stone gives us a totally different perspective of what is happening with this same aging father and his sons.
It 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.
(from Best Road Yet)

Stone’s 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).
Daniela's other Short Reviews: Lynne Patrick (ed) "Criminal Tendencies"

Dede Crane "The Cult of Quick Repair"

Alexandra Leggat "Animal"

"Tales of the Decongested Vol 2"

David Eagleman "Sum: Tales from the Afterlives"

J. Robert Lennon "Pieces for the Left Hand"

Dylan Landis "Normal People Don't Live Like This"

Wells Tower "Everything Ravaged, Everything Burned"

Jo Cannon "Insignificant Gestures"

Julie Weinstein "Flashes From The Other World"

Christopher Klim "True Surrealism"
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Ryan Stone’s fiction has appeared in literary journals including The South Carolina Review, The Madison Review, Natural Bridge, Whiskey Island Magazine, Wisconsin Review, and the anthologies Under the Arch: St. Louis Stories and The 2009 Press 53 Open Awards Anthology. He teaches writing and literature for Danville Area Community College.