A Review of Stephen V. Ramey's 'Glass Animals'

It's no surprise that I get excited about new books arriving through the post, but when I heard the familiar thunk of a book-sized package on my hallway floor and realised it must be my copy of Glass Animals, my usual happy dance was extra bouncy. You see, I get to say, "I knew Steve Ramey before he was famous," albeit virtually. I've been writing alongside Steve for about two and a half years at an online flash fiction group and to see a collection of his stories in real life shiny print is a wonderful thing. (The print quality of Pure Slush books is also very, very nice, which adds to the whole shiny, happy, bouncy experience.) Glass Animals by Stephen V Ramey

There's a recognisable sort of feeling I get when reading a Ramey story - a combination of anticipatory dread and restrained adrenaline that always delivers a payoff, just never necessarily in the way I expected. The prospect of a whole volume's worth was, therefore, happy dance-worthy indeed (think of a hobbit dancing like Carlton from The Fresh Prince of Bel Air and you should have a fairly accurate visual).

If reading Glass Animals on the bus, as I did one morning, you may even look a little unhinged as you work your way through each flash, from Billy's courageous journey out of innocence in Into the Woods all the way past the point of no return with Leaving the Garden. The collection moves easily from humour and familiarity to disquieting realism, from mesmerising magical realism to everyday tragedies - all of which find their own ways of slipping into your subconscious while you're distracted by the tight, clean prose.

For me, there's also something really exciting about seeing an idea transformed into a fully-fledged story. Several of the flashes in Glass Animals originated from prompts supplied by our writing group so I feel sort of privileged that I got to see them in their awkward teenage years, fresh from the pen, before they'd lost their puppy fat and acne and worked out who they were. The adults they have become do not disappoint.

Many of Steve's characters are quite oblivious of what's happening to them which is an enormous part of the appeal (and torture) of each story. We gain an (often uncomfortable) insight into the protagonist's experiences but we are, of course, powerless to explain it to them, or save them from whatever destruction or change seems inevitable. Universally, Ramey's characters are very real, even the most absurd and outlandish of them, no matter what age or gender - he picks out and unweaves exactly what makes each one human and flawed and beautiful. Every story makes you wonder how you'd seem if sketched as one of the characters - not always a wholly enjoyable idea but one that certainly keeps those tales secure in your head for days...

The stories I can't forget have implanted themselves into my brain for completely different reasons: The Divide for its domestic profundity, Simply Salazar for its casual intimidation, Canis es Machina for Clarise (who really ought to be the star of a beautifully grim indie movie), The Mailwoman for its duplicitous gossip, Meringue for its... climax, Nora's RV for its aching urgency, Funny Stuff for the ultimate tragic clown, and, finally, Leaving the Garden, a story that has stayed with me ever since I first read its initial incarnation at our writing group.

My bookshelf has a space in between Q and S reserved for more Ramey. Yours should too.

Buy Glass Animals here.


Posted on March 1, 2013 and filed under Reading, Short Stories, Writers' Groups, Writing.