Taylor’s Thoughts on Ten Stories to Manhood
After tearing open the yellow shipping envelope and reading the title, I thought to myself, Crap, how am I supposed to review this when I’m probably not going to relate to anything in it?
It was one of those “This wasn’t made for you!” moments, but the author, Jonathan Maniscalco, led me through each story with care and with an underlying understanding that it doesn’t matter if you identify as a man or a woman, there are pieces—in these stories—that you can grasp on to and reel in to match to your own life and pieces that can astound you in such a way that you can’t believe that this is only a short story.
I won’t dive deep into what happens in each story (Alex does a nice job of that) but I do want to touch briefly on what Maniscalco does differently.
Maniscalco does something I haven’t seen before, he includes quotes, interviews, other pieces of writing, etc. outside—but yet somehow linked—each story with a small comment being made from the protagonist. I think that these additions round out Ryan’s personality nicely—even furthering his understanding of relationships and religion— and fit as a smooth transition into the next piece. They also help build the world that Ryan is living in and give the reader almost an “outside looking in” perspective.
Each story feels genuine (I currently live in Boston and most of the stories take place in or near the city), and there’s a simplicity to how Maniscalco describes the events surrounding our protagonist and it works; he doesn’t need verbose sentences as they would only create an unconvincing and complicated contrast and overwhelm the reader.
My final thought is that I find Maniscalco’s collection to be like the sea: the settings and descriptions can calm the reader and envelop him or her. It’s as if you’re experiencing everything with Ryan, and that’s all a reader ever wants…to be in the story.
Alex’s thoughts on Ten Stories to Manhood
The title Ten Stories to Manhood is intriguing because it begs the questions, what stories will be included in a journey to “manhood” and how can Maniscalco possibly cover that journey in just ten stories? Surely several large books could be filled on the subject, so what will this compact collection have to offer? However, once I began the prologue, I realized my expectation was skewed. Rather than being separate stories that share a common theme of coming into one’s manhood, Maniscalco instead brings readers into the life of a single character, Ryan Clarke. Each story is a snippet of an experience during various ages in young Mr. Clarke’s youth that combine to provide a larger picture of his growth toward manhood.
The collection begins with a prologue that sets a sixteen-year-old Ryan “atop a dune” in the evening with a girl named Jane, who seems to be a love interest. After some moments of passion, the two lay together but are at odds. Jane is fishing for a reaction or declaration from Ryan that she ultimately doesn’t get, turning the scene sour and causing her to leave him alone, in the dark, with no ride back. Ryan seems unfazed by this change in events and he simply stares out into the ocean, pondering on thoughts we as the reader are not privy to. The desire to understand why Ryan allows this situation to take that turn urged me onto the next story in search of answers.
Fortunately, Maniscalco does not make me wait long to gain those answers. I began to see the tense family dynamic that Ryan was raised in during the next two stories, Snow and A Resolution. In Snow an eight-year-old Ryan spends a snow day with his friend, Bernardo, and what begins as a beautiful and exciting day turns melancholy. Both boys seem to be wrestling with issues at home and the story ends similar to the prologue, with Ryan sitting alone, atop a snow bank, contemplating deep thoughts for one so young. A Resolution reveals that Ryan’s parents are experiencing a rift in their relationship, which the young Ryan sees as harsh words, raised tones, and divisiveness. While his mother comforts her distressed son with talk of an agreement being found between her and Ryan’s father, the reader can guess all too well which direction the relationship is heading and what “the resolution” will likely be. When thinking back to Jane and Ryan’s interaction, a reader can begin to see a trend of distrust in Ryan due to the model of a relationship he had to follow as a boy.
As the stories progress, Maniscalco ventures into Ryan’s adolescence where his credo starts to form. Topics of religion and spirituality, friendship, loyalty and justice, death, and self-independence all are covered. Ryan’s confidence is shown in his ability to quickly make new friends, and his loyalty in his haste to stand up for those same friends. During the story, A Just Right, however, Ryan’s loyalty forces him to explore the gray area of right and wrong when protecting one he cares about requires more than words. And once again, in Tomorrow the main focus is relationships: Ryan experiences a youthful, romantic evening with a girl who seems quite taken with him. But as with Jane in the prologue, the scene takes a dramatic shift where Ryan closes himself off to the girl and the evening ends with her leaving and Ryan’s friend Andrew joining him instead. Andrew asks about the date, asking “So it didn’t go that well?” and Ryan responds, “It was going well” but continues on to explain, “She wasn’t here like I was.” Andrew seems to understand his friend’s meaning with this explanation and does not pry further. I, however, understood less clearly what Ryan meant by his comment and found myself lingering on the line that seemed to hold so much weight. After much thought though I believe I found a great deal of insight on what Maniscalco was hoping to get at with his collection.
Ryan’s comment suggests not that the girl was not in the moment with him, but rather that it was more superficial for her than it was for him. She is a “wash ashore,” in Cape Cod temporarily and likely viewing the relationship as a summer fling, and Ryan realizes this during their date and chooses to close himself off rather than run the risk of getting more deeply involved only to have her leave him behind. Yet, it is a year after Ryan’s experience with Jane on the dune and I realized he is no closer to being able to take the leap toward letting someone of the opposite sex truly get close to him.
Because of this, I believe the damage caused by divorce stands out as a major—if not the major—theme in this collection. At least four of the ten stories are directly influenced by his parents’ split, and I think it’s quite fair to argue that the other six show aspects of Ryan’s character that are also influenced by that experience in his life. This does not mean that Jonathan Maniscalco did not write us a collection that takes us on a journey to manhood, but rather, he shows us how one moment in a boy’s journey can define and mold all others, shaping him into the man he will become.