Nearly every story in Patrick Earl Ryan’s collection IF WE WERE ELECTRIC is so replete with character and atmosphere, it could be turned into a full length novel; this mostly works to Ryan’s immense benefit, although at times the abundance of detail can slow down the thrust of the action. And if the stories are full of action; Ryan’s characters grasp and strive for something always out of reach, be it a dream or the perfect sexual encounter or even just a great high and munchies satisfied by “a big bowl of canned peaches with condensed milk and Bailey’s Irish Cream”. These are real people painted in vivid colors, fighting for life against the backdrop of New Orleans in all its garish oddness, and the rhythms and cadence of each story reflect the individual battles.
Stand-outs include “Feux Follets”, concerning one Mason Bean, a 58-year old man who walks the perimeter of his property every night without a flashlight, but making sure to carry a dime and some salt in his shoe. One evening he spies feux follets, tiny angels of light, and as he follows them, we gradually begin to realize that Bean’s “everyday superstition” may be masking some terrible truth. The rendering of Bean as a small, tender man seduced, and then forced out of the small, tender world of his own making, is literally breathtaking. “The Blue Son” is resplendent with death and memory; a man dying from AIDS returns home to find his mother being haunted by the ghost of Jess, his brother that died a navy “hero”, although our narrator can only remember him for his vicious bullying. The move towards redemption and reconciliation is paced at a slow crawl and ends with just the whisper of hope, but it’s enough. The magic of “Labor” is strange and startling and hilarious at every turn; Asoto is an unassuming man who finds himself pregnant with a snake demon and has to decide whose advice to take to abort it, the Chicken Man and his voodoo, or Miss Jane’s special marinated peppers. Asoto’s dismay at finding himself in this situation and the plodding politeness with which he seeks help are just delightful and the ending is laugh-out-loud funny. In “The Tempest”, a hapless stoner named Jude just wants to run his Tackle and Grocery shop and go home and smoke a bowl, but the storm of the century makes for strange company; Jude spies a mysterious Chinese woman, wading through the water in a silk kimono and he clumsily attempts to be of help. This sets him off on a wild ride of floating corpses, samurai swords, and murderous strangers, all to be handled with a dwindling weed supply and a realization that sobriety may be far more painful than he’d ever anticipated.
IF WE WERE ELECTRIC received a Flannery O’Connor Award for Short Fiction and rightly so; like O’Connor, Patrick Earl Ryan summons entire worlds in a few sentences and takes the reader to places they never knew they wanted to visit.
A richly textured collection of short stories, IF WE WERE ELECTRIC by Patrick Earl Ryan is full of strangely marvelous ne’er-do-wells and heartbroken lost souls, all fighting for life in the humid sensuality of New Orleans.
~Shari Simpson for IndieReader