cover image Survival Skills

Survival Skills

Jean Ryan. Ashland Creek (, $15.95 (212p) ISBN 978-1-61822-021-9

Watchful animals populate this debut story collection from Ryan (Lost Sister), blurring the distinctions between themselves and people as they seek comfort among each other. In "Greyhound", a couple struggles to acclimate their rescue dog, once made to race ten times a night, to the pampered pet life; and in "A Sea Change," a woman notices her girlfriend become "more fish than human" when the creatures she looks after at the Monterey Bay Aquarium displace their relationship on dry land. Ryan's diction often adapts to her stories' environments. Humans don't make love, they mate; a woman car-wrecked face molts as she transforms into a beautiful stranger. Ryan's plain-spoken language, punctuated with facts and anecdotes about the natural world, balances daily drudgery with the sublime. When in "Migration" a recently divorced woman seeks the restorative calm of Lake Tahoe, an oddly affectionate goose won't leave her side. And while her protagonist reads a coffee table book about what animals must do to survive, she cocoons in her remote hideaway. Life's brutalities%E2%80%94amnesia, coma, and quirks of human nature%E2%80%94are extreme yet familiar in this captivating collection. Ryan controls devastating psychological material with tight prose, quick scene changes, and a scientist's observant eye. (Apr.)