Precarious: Stories of Love, Sex, and Misunderstanding
By: Al Riske
Publisher: Bug Bot Press
Publication Date: February 2010
Reviewed by: Pamela Victor
Review Date: February 25, 2010
“I remember the river and the way it looked at dawn: the glassy water and the wisps of fog. I can still smell the sea air and hear the trawlers chugging out past the jetty in the distance. I remember the feel of my oars catching the water in time with Curt’s. The muscles don’t forget…It was that summer between the end of high school and the start of something else.” From the first paragraph of the first story in Al Riske’s Precarious: Stories of Love, Sex and Misunderstanding, you know you’re in the capable hands of a literary musician. “Sleeping with Smiley,” is a poetic reflection on the loss and longing of young adulthood when everything is about to change but it hasn’t yet. The in-between place is where the author excels, in the moments before…before the first job, before marriage, before adulthood, before the first kiss.
Like the title promises, each story relates compelling tales of love, sex and misunderstanding. Riske caresses the themes of love and loss, life transitions, relationships, and young men’s confusion over transforming the idea of “women” from a concept to a practically reality. Most of Riske’s stories are told from the earnest point of view of young men who very much regard women as an alluringly frustrating mystery. As a flummoxed character is advised by his buddy on the subject of women, “Look, they have all the cards. We’re just lucky they let us play sometimes.”
While most of Riske’s tales offer sensual exposition and tantalizing hints of what is left unsaid, two stories shock readers with their sharp contrast of tone. The sobering, raw stories “Dance Naked” and “Your Eyes Only” abruptly land readers in a sparse, spare world where all the romance has been replaced by raw sexuality, violence and fear. Riske makes an interesting choice in ending his collection in this mean world that feels like the sordid underside of his other pieces.
Personally, I relished the title story, about a long-time, happily married man mulling over the ineffectual encounters with women in his youth. Sexually inexperienced until he married, readers join him as he toys with the allure of bedding other women, particularly a co-worker with whom he shares a flirtatious friendship. The author carries us on a sensual ride, bouncing between fantasy and reality in a very authentic way. “He is so much older now, but he is starting to experience, again, the delicious discomfort of being alive, the sensation that his skin is about to burst, almost. And there’s a bit of a surprise: He is no longer a tongue-tied teenager. He and Caitlin can talk about anything and everything. All his stories are new to her, and hers to him.”
Quill says: Al Riske riffs eloquently on the themes of “love, sex, and misunderstanding” with a teasing sensuality, a meandering approach-and-retreat dance of words, the way all good romantic encounters should be.