$19.95 (pb) 978-0-77801-347-1, 128 pp. Oberon Press, October 2009
The opening line of Turner’s book immediately speaks to his strength as a writer. “[Julie Rossiter has] … calves too big for the boots she wants.” A lesser writer would be more literal in describing Julie, more bland, would give us a paragraph-long description of her character and physique. This is where Turner excels: his honed eye for detail that lets him confidently shed all filler so that his stories are pure punch. His calculated style of writing skillfully captures the nuances in the fine threads that bond (or do not bond) his characters together. He delivers clever and calculated one-liners that say it all, and his one-liners give us more insight into a story—its characters and their relationships—than most writers could give us in a paragraph. This economy of words, his spare style, is what makes his writing remarkable, and a pleasure to read. That and how some of his more aphoristic lines beg to be read twice.
Another clear strength here is his unobtrusive rendering of dialogue, and the catchy cadence and rhythm to the writing. It’s a style all his own, although comparisons to Burning Rock short fiction, namely Michael Winter, will be inevitable with lines like, “I’ve known her a month and I want a year to pass. I want time to reflect my devotion.”
All the stories in What We’re Made Of share the same protagonist, Benjamin Wallace, which lends a readability to the stories in that you get to know characters in the same way you would in a novel. Taken altogether, it could be said that What We’re Made Of is a portraiture of a generation, or a segment of a the modern twenty/thirty-something generation. A generation “less likely to know what a screwdriver is for than to have travelled the world, looking for meaning,” and a generation severing the connection between human impulse and social constraints, particularly in the realm of relationships.
With What We’re Made Of, Ryan Turner goes beyond showing promise with his debut; he leaves you wanting more, soon. Short fiction is being reinvigorated and earning its due praise as a medium all its own, and it is people like Ryan Turner who are doing that. —Chad Pelley