Alan Peter Ryan,
The Back of Beyond
(Cemetery Dance, 2012)

They read like stories that aren't quite done.

The Back of Beyond is a short collection of four short stories by Alan Peter Ryan. Each is well written, with good use of language and imagery. Each caught my interest to varying degrees, but by each tale's end, I wondered if Ryan just couldn't figure out how to end them.

The first story, "Sexual Exploration is a Crime," is perhaps the least savory. Jerry is something of a sadsack when it comes to women, and so he travels to Brazil where he's heard the girls will do just about anything for an American tourist with a healthy line of credit. There's a tragic side to this tale of longterm prostitution -- even if Jerry likes to believe Renata, the woman he attracts and who quickly moves into this hotel room, is his girlfriend -- but the ending is just, to be honest, weird. And not in a good way.

"The Winter's Tale," with its forced connection to Shakespeare, is unsatisfying because the story -- I'm not sure I'd call it a plot -- about a man suffering the rigors of isolation plods along for a while but never goes anywhere concrete. "Starvation Valley" began as an interesting character study as a father and son who don't know each other well try to bond during a cross-country trip -- but the son's attitudes change without reason, and the father's patience wears thin without cause.

"Mountain Man," set in the Old West, is the most adventurous of the package, but even a little gunplay and cannibilism can't save a story that fails to resolve.

If Ryan ever goes back to finish these stories, they might be worth reading. As published, however, they were a waste of my time.

book review by
Tom Knapp

14 December 2013

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