When writing a short story collection, or indeed any form of anthology in whatever medium it takes, diversity is the biggest aspect to take advantage of. Every story compacted into the publication has the encouraged freedom to be utterly different from all of the other stories contained therein. On a purely surface level, Ryan Vance’s surreal, guttural, sometimes cosmic short story collection One Man’s Trash fits that aesthetic entirely, but all of the stories that make up the collection are otherwise unified in a core premise of the unsettling being regarded as the mundane norm.
Throughout Vance’s work, strange happenings weave themselves around recognisable scenarios. Homeless people successfully hypnotise anyone above working class to dispense with their worldly treasures whilst annihilating them emotionally. An ice cream-serving Minotaur navigates a romantic relationship with a human male whilst being seduced by a woman who’s obsessed by his physical form. A man allows his relationship with his lover to drift away when a rift in the wall of the universe is accidentally discovered and he obsessively catalogues the everyday objects that proceed to slip into the void. There’s an engrossing sense of terrific unease at work in all of these stories that’s seductively tense. Romance in its emotional and physical form is intertwined throughout these tales of the unexpected.
Vance executes his prose in a characteristically unnerving style, playing out these surreal situations as everyday events. The strongest appeal of One Man’s Trash quickly becomes apparent in how it finds touches of recognisable emotion within bizarre situations, but maintaining a restrained atmosphere within those situations. The strangeness is rarely amplified. It’s simply there, presented as being as everyday as the other aspects around it, attention not entirely drawn towards it. Vance’s narrative style curves around other elements and pinpoints minute, almost throwaway emotional reflective states of his characters. It’s as if he’s emphasising human dramas at play here, but it also adds to the abundance of oddness that flows through the book.
The driving drama of One Man’s Trash feels like a comment on the clash between personality, gender, class and culture that otherwise wouldn’t intermingle with each other. The supernatural reads as a metaphor for queer identity within regular, lower middle class society. The downside to Vance’s literary style is that these ideas and narrative formats float around the place rather than hit with any impact. Several stories prolong this loose thematic approach to such an extent that they become a burden. They morph into something that needs to be endured rather than something that is experienced, which is what feels like Vance is aiming to take the reader on. This becomes all the more apparent when reading One Man’s Trash in one go. On an individual level, most of the stories succeed in unsettling you with their vague yet palpable weirdness, yet as an overall package the book misses more than it hits. The concepts coursing through One Man’s Trash strange veins are undeniably engaging but the end result is curiously listless.