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Reviewed by Charles Remington for Readers' Favorite
Retreating to the small town of his childhood after a failed marriage, Ryan finds himself working at a gas station/convenience store. His higher education and philosophy degree, as predicted by his father, have done nothing to advance his career. Disappointed in himself and his failure to build a better life, he constructs a protective carapace of witty sarcasm and cuts himself off from friends and family. Emerging Man by Steve McEllistrem describes how Ryan is harangued daily by Linda, his manager, who refers to him as ‘college boy’ and delights in assigning him the most menial tasks, how he spends a great deal of time daydreaming about moving on - climbing into his car and just following the road to see where it would lead.
But his world rapidly changes when Bitsy, an intelligent older woman, enters his father’s life and an eccentric old man starts to carve a large standing stone in the field opposite the gas station. Intrigued, he befriends the old fellow, who in turn encourages him to work on the stone with him. A deep and meaningful relationship develops, with Ryan beginning to see a more purposeful existence for himself. An unexpected, dramatic event presents a window of opportunity, but can he possibly escape the security of inaction and the bonds of small town life?
I would normally find characters who blame their parents for their own shortcomings a somewhat hackneyed device but Steve McEllistrem has created a narrative which quickly overcame my aversion. Don’t get me wrong, it is hard to like the central character, Ryan, who would appear to be the sole architect of his misfortunes but again, the author’s skilful plotting and peerless prose keeps one engaged throughout the story. Emerging Man is an excellent study of an intelligent man struggling to climb out of a rut that he has created for himself. I found my toes curling at McEllistrem’s description of a family meal and my heart going out to the old sculptor who worked on the standing stone. An enjoyable, if haunting read - I do not hesitate to recommended it.