In the shadow of the space program, everyday residents of Cape Canaveral and its environs cope with varying levels of domestic strife in these nine stories, set over the past 50 years.
Ryan (Gemini Bites, 2011, etc.) has a knack for squeezing drama out of seemingly mundane situations. In the title story, a nerdy gay teenager develops a crush on a self-aggrandizing ex-astronaut but gets more than he bargained for when the man and his wife invite him to dinner. A pregnant high schooler dreams of becoming a pageant queen in “Miss America” only to find herself in the home of a talent scout whose actions don’t exactly inspire confidence. For the most part, these stories, while all rooted in the everyday, work best when Ryan amps up the volume a decibel or two. The weaker links—one about a foster teen meeting a new sibling, another a somewhat too-familiar take on childhood bullying—lack the (slightly) out-of-the-ordinary circumstances that give the others their charges. As the book progresses, the protagonists get older, too, and though all of Ryan’s characters are endearing, they do get better—and saltier—with age. In the funny and affecting “Fountain of Youth,” a former “bookkeeper for an extortion racket” finds himself in witness protection at “the finest retirement community in all of Brevard County.” Set in the wake of the Challenger explosion, “Go Fever” is about a NASA engineer’s affair with the wife of his boss, who is obsessed with the idea that she’s trying to poison him. And in Ryan’s strongest piece, “Earth, Mostly,” a thrice-divorced grandmother attempts an afternoon tryst with her (married) defensive driving instructor.
Ryan highlights the quirks of ordinary life in a place known for the extraordinary in this sharp and funny collection.