★★★★★ Once in a while in Philadelphia by Ron Neumer is a collection of loosely connected short stories that all take place in Frankford, a neighborhood in northeast Philadelphia. Sprung straight from Neumer’s experiences, the pages of this book are packed with characters that are, somehow, both larger-than-life and utterly realistic. In the story entitled ‘Rico James Paradise and Arlene Marie Denali,’ readers will meet two doomed lovers who are unknowingly at the end of their relationship. In ‘Fast Lane Friends,’ an ex-construction worker recounts losing his job and getting hit with a lawsuit after booby-trapping his bicycle with dynamite and remotely detonating the explosives when his bike his stolen. (For what it’s worth, nobody dies.)
Neumer is clearly a homegrown talent. Anyone could see that he has a natural gift for words, likely aided here by the fact that his characters and stories are drawn from memory. The richness of Neumer’s subjects, and the general jokiness of both their dialogue and their over-the-top behavior, form the basis of a seemingly endless spool of inspiration from which the author spins his entertaining yarns. Joined by their common setting, these stories also have other, less obvious, threads connecting them. Familiar characters are either mentioned or spotted while in the midst of another character’s tale, and, in one especially subtle trick, Neumer brings back a particular love song that carries melancholic memory, thanks to the story in which it is first introduced. Dripping with adjectival drama, Once in a while in Philadelphia serves as a cannily clear view onto a small but boisterous pocket of suburban America.