An introspective look into the life of Ray Ryan, this narrative, delivered from the lips of the main character directly addresses the reader to join him through his life’s journey – one of joy and sorrow, success and failure, decline and growth. Published through Pen Press, Aiden Riley’s Ray Ryan pulls the reader into Ray’s life, intervals spanning from childhood and young adolescence to adulthood, making strong emotional connections to significant experiences throughout his development.
Written in the style of a dialogue, Riley effects a conversational narrative; this clever approach helps connect the reader to Ray, whose experiences mirror the turbulent walk of life many of us have traveled. This approach is reminiscent of Salinger’s The Catcher in the Rye, where the story’s main character, Holden Caufield, addresses the reader in the first few lines of the book: “If you really want to hear about it, the first thing you'll probably want to know is where I was born, and what my lousy childhood was like, and how my parents were occupied and all before they had me, and all that David Copperfield kind of crap, but I don't feel like going into it, if you want to know the truth” (Salinger). Riley deftly addresses the reader similarly at the beginning of his novel, while invoking one of Ray’s more deep-seated, emotional memories. Through this approach, the reader cannot suspend his/her own notion of self-identity like one could with any other style; here, the reader is not only enticed to examine the story, but becomes part of it as well.
Similar to the aforementioned Salinger work, Ray Ryan is a bildungsroman: a novel concerning a young character’s growth into maturity – what some would call a “coming of age” story. Ray’s narrative recounts crucial moments in his life, moving from school and college to his entrance into the workforce and professional life. What is alluring and captivating about this story is the realism Riley is able to effect in his fiction. Ray’s life is filled with ups and downs – trials and tribulations that serve to mold the man he is to become. He is no victim, nor superhero; he is both blessed and cursed. The vivid descriptions of each scene color in his back-story, while Ray’s disposition and thought processes change as he grows. This is a difficult transition for an author to make: a character who, in one story, must constantly evolve over the span of 30 years. Riley manages to pull it off quite well, as Ray’s childhood is wrought with alienation, awkwardness, and an overall disconnection from society, while older Ray, through both his actions and reflections, elicits an individual who has learned, adapted, and advanced through his own inner growth.
Ray experiences many of the common crises we all share, and this strengthens his connection to the reader, as well as the reader’s emotional investment into the story. As we follow Ray through his life’s path, we question (as we have in our own lives) every action and decision we’ve made, trying to determine: what kind of person will I become? How have the events of my life shaped who I am today? Like Ray, the painfulness of growing up will sometimes prompt us to shrink away from the present, and ruminate over the past: a time when understanding very little protected us from the harsh realities of existence. As we travel with Ray on his life’s journey, we end up feeling what he feels, touching upon our own scars of love and loss.
In one scene, a matured Ray reflects upon the state of his (now aged) childhood dog as being, “a shadow of his former self.” Here, Ray recognizes how much his dog has changed, yet he hardly noticed the progression. In this moment, Ray’s own growth is reflected back at him, as the boy he once was has grown into a man, tempered by the diverse experiences of life. With his story of Ray Ryan, Riley reminds us that, although the road of life is filled with brilliantly joyous sights, as well as dangerously destructive potholes, we shouldn’t lose sight of who we are, where we’re going, and where we want to be.
by Richard Nicol M.Ed. B.A. English
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