Ryan, Patrick Earl. “If We Were Electric: Stories”, (Flannery O’Connor Award for Short Fiction Series), University of Georgia Press, 2020.
Twelve Stories About New Orleans
Being a New Orleans native, I search out books about my hometown and that is how I came upon this exquisite collection of stories about the Crescent City. Patrick Earl Ryan celebrates New Orleans with all of her special qualities and the city becomes a character, sometimes hidden and sometimes overt throughout the collection. There were times that I was brought to tears while simultaneously grinning and there were stories that pulled me in with the first sentence. Here is a new voice that we must pay attention to and from whom I have great expectations of hearing much more.
I attended a zoom session at Octavia Books in New Orleans with the author recently and it confirmed the way I felt as I read his stories. Most of the characters are outsiders and on the fringe of society who deal with the despair of not fitting in yet holding the desire to do so. Each word seems perfectly chosen to depict the inner feelings of these characters and the world in which they live. It is impossible not to feel Ryan’s love for words and language as we read.
When I sit down to write a review of a collection, I usually find myself at odds as to whether to review the work as a whole or give synopses of each story and I find myself at the same crossroads here. I will try to do a bit of both. As a whole, what struck me most is the originality of the stories. We have had many books and stories about New Orleans in the past so to find something new is often difficult. However, here it is not difficult but a wonderful surprise.
All of us who have grown up gay have had that outsider feeling and find ourselves not knowing how to cope. Most of us eventually find our ways but when we are young, it is so very difficult to do so. We see in “Before Las Blancas”, the opening story, a youth is so much in love with who he is that he creates his own world in which to survive the outside world. In “Where It Takes Us”, we read of the coming together of two brothers, one gay and one straight with HIV who manage to find a way to continue together through life. In “Blackout”, a story of a guy in an abusive relationship finds a way to experience a bit of happiness with someone else. And there is so much more, all rendered in the voice of a new writer who knows how to write what he feels.
As I said before, New Orleans is always there as a kind of omniscient character who reminds us of where we are and guides us through stories that many of us have felt— stories of desire, of unfulfilled love, of relationships, of loneliness and of the world. When I closed the covers of “If We Were Electric”, I remained haunted not only by the stories but also by how they were told. Be prepared to clear your day when you sit down to read. I found it impossible to stop and continued on though the night, pausing to reflect on each story after I read it and now two days later, I am still reflecting and will certainly do so for a very long time.