Reviewed by Lindsay Denninger -

Survival Skills by Jean Ryan

    Ashland Creek Press - April 2013
    ISBN 978-1-61822-021-9

Couples falling apart. Couples coming together, and then falling apart. A new lease on life for a divorcee mourning the loss of her marriage. Guilt. Sadness. Renewal. Happiness. Death. Life. These are all stories of the everyday person, and these are facets found in the human condition—the stuff, to put it lightly, we see every day. But these everyday occurrences seem, well, not so every day in the hands of scribe Jean Ryan.

In her new work of short stories entitled Survival Skills, Ryan is not only a gifted wordsmith but a skilled anthropologist, creating, analyzing, and pulling apart at the cross section of each character: their thoughts, their fears, their triumphs.

In Survival Skills, characters are paralyzed physically and emotionally, taking their hurt of the past as scars into the future. Depressing? Not in this case. Though not always sunshine and rainbows, Ryan's writing is honest and hopeful, tinged with compassion and the sense that there is always tomorrow, no matter what today brings. This combination of reality and humility is few and far between in today's fiction, and it is impeccable in Survival Skills.

Ryan calls frequently to nature and the natural world in her stories. In "Greyhound," a woman adopts a dog to help heal her troubled partner; in "A Sea Change,"—one of two stories in the collection first published by The Summerset Review—a relationship goes awry when one member's oceanic discoveries begin to take priority over her partner; "Migration" finds a divorcee adopted by a Canada goose, just when she needed a friend. The natural world isn't always predictable (nor is life), but it still finds a way to exist.

All in all, Ryan writes that human life does go on, that it must go on. Survival Skills reveals that the world is sometimes painful, but always beautiful.