Once in a while in Philadelphia by Ron Neumer

3/11/2018 –★★★★★   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.

 

8/15/2018 – ★★★★   Once in a while in Philadelphia by Ron Neumer is a  short story collection that revolves around the lives of true Philadelphians. In these interconnected vignettes, Neumer takes readers into the minds of ordinary Americans—sometimes, on the surface, quite a simple thing—in order to reveal life’s true complexity. In ‘Rico James Paradise and Arlene Marie Denali,’ readers will follow the on-again/off-again romance between street-smart Rico Paradise and privileged Arlene Denali, as they’re flung together and apart over the span of several decades by their families and personal circumstances. Other stories reveal the frustrations of working-class America, showing how corporate greed breaks the backs of hard-working men and women. But blue collar Philadelphia has a darker side too. For every honest worker, there is someone trying to use the system to their advantage and gamble their way to wealth—as long as they don’t lose all their money on pints as the corner pub. In Neumer’s hands, Philadelphia comes alive on the page, and each character burns with an essential truth. 

Neumer draws on personal experience for these short stories as a native Philadelphian himself. His background adds layers of authenticity to his characters and descriptions. The dialogue is lively and colloquial, while Neumer’s blustery descriptions highlight the oft-overlooked aspects of an ordinary life. But the author truly hits his stride in “Little Town Flirt,” the last story in the collection. Johnny Mara’s struggle with PTSD after serving overseas in the Vietnam War is written with both wit and an acknowledgement on how his service has affected everyone in his life, from his wife to the local bartender. For readers nostalgic of Philadelphia or those intrigued by how extraordinary every day life can truly be, One in a While in Philadelphia provides the perfect escape from the fast pace of our modern life. 

 

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