cover image The Dream Life of Astronauts

The Dream Life of Astronauts

Patrick Ryan. Dial, $26 (272p) ISBN 978-0-385-34138-7

In these nine short stories, Ryan (Send Me) explores the messy lives of ordinary people living around Cape Canaveral, Fla. The U.S. space program features prominently in several. In the title story, a 16-year-old boy falls into the orbit of someone who was almost an astronaut but became a real estate agent and has a secret agenda. In “Go Fever,” a NASA engineer who worked on the ill-fated Challenger has an affair with another engineer's wife. In “The Way She Handles,” a nine-year-old boy watches as his parents’ marriage implodes during the summer of 1974 with the Watergate hearings as background. In “Summer of ’69,” the lift-off of Apollo 11 marks a momentary cessation of hostilities for three children living with foster parents. A pregnant teenager is tempted by a sleazy talent scout in “Miss America,” and a mobster living in witness protection puts the moves on the queen bee of his retirement condo board in “Fountain of Youth.” And in “You Need Not Be Present to Win,” a man pays one last visit to his mother at her senior facility. The author illuminates these characters with pitch-perfect dialogue and period references that capture the various decades in which the stories take place. In the end, he uses a symbol of mankind’s greatest achievement as an ironic yardstick for the more earthbound interactions of his sorrowful characters. (July)