Review by Joseph Levens

Lovers and Loners by Jean Ryan

MadeMark Publishing
April 2017, paperback
ISBN: 978-1545292211

Sometimes you pick up a collection because a single story read elsewhere drove you to it. Or perhaps you knew the author and decided to try his/her latest. Or perhaps you were the victim of happenstance and the book, as some do, magically appeared in your mailbox just as you were wondering what your next read was going to be.

All of the above contributed to my reading Jean Ryan's latest published collection, Lovers and Loners. Stories of hers have run in The Summerset Review since 2010, and so I can't say this author is a stranger to me or the magazine.

As you probably know, Summerset prides itself in being completely unbiased in deciding what to publish and what to praise. Though we don't ask for blind submissions and we do read cover notes, we try very hard to be as impartial in determining who and what gets published and reviewed here. We very much prefer dealing with each work as it stands alone.

That being said, I still have only wonderful things to say about Jean Ryan's second collection, succeeding her equally wonderful first, Survival Skills. In Lovers, what I appreciate most is the consistency from story to story and the clarity of voice. These are mostly quiet pieces, pensive and thoughtful in nature, involving characters with situations most of us have either endured ourselves or can easily identify with, surrounded by engaging metaphors and facts to keep the reader riveted.

We learn of the process for inventing the next great fragrance while, at the same time, sympathizing with a disabled woman whose boyfriend is cheating on her. We learn of the habits of a good number of animals (such as crows and manatees) and plants (did you know a Venus flytrap actually snaps shut on its prey?) while at the same time we accompany an elderly mother on a swimming expedition and meet a woman who has decided to go homeless for a while, having lost her brother to a surfing accident.

The metaphors and facts in this collection make these stories come alive and interesting reads, and it is a pleasure to have each one deliver just as good of a tale as the one before it. Here is one example of the mix of character and metaphor that is typical of this very inspiring collection (from the story "The Songbird Clinic") —

Megan reminded me that being alone had its compensations, that now I could fall in love all over again and what could be nicer than that? The thing is, these last four months haven't been terrible; they've been... restful: no need to make conversation, no worries about disappointing someone, no obligation to agree on menus or movies or dental products. If I do wind up falling in love again, I hope I'm up for it.

This morning I was having coffee on the deck when I noticed a spider web, about the width of a grapefruit, strung up between two of my potted vegetable plants. Three minute strands stretched from both sides, anchoring a tightly rigged web of breathless perfection, each miniscule partition exactly the same. Sitting in the middle of this web was an auburn spider the size of a pea. If the light had come from a slightly different angle, if I had not been looking that way at that instant, I would have missed him altogether and my world would be unchanged.