The Dream Life of Astronauts



St. Louis Post-Dispatch  Refinery29  Electric Literature • LitHub

Long-Listed for The Story Prize, 2017

“A wry and smart collection — a beam of intelligent life from an author who clearly likes to probe the outer edges of the familiar.”

Maureen Corrigan, NPR’s Fresh Air

“[Ryan] displays a gift for excavating the dashed hopes and yearnings that lie beneath. He is especially adept at capturing the point of view of children, with a Salingeresque understanding of their alienation, their vulnerability, their keen powers of observation.”

— Michiko Kakutani, The New York Times

“Ryan is a master of the old-fashioned, captivating storytelling that deceptively reads as effortless. . . . [He] never actually sends his characters into space; but his orbits of the human heart are enough.”

— Rebecca Makkai, The New York Times Book Review 

The Dream Life of Astronauts is a collection of small and lovely surprises — a book brimming with humor, compassion, and heartbreaks.”

St. Louis Post-Dispatch

“Ryan has an eye for striking and quirky details that gives the book a rich texture, and allow him to fully inhabit the decades he’s writing in without easy kitsch…The Dream Life of Astronauts is a collection of small and lovely surprises — a book brimming with humor, compassion, and heartbreaks. Ryan’s characters aren’t great American heroes, but the people around the television and in their backyards while the shuttles launch, looking up.”

 The Seattle Times

“You don’t have to be a rocket scientist to appreciate this funny collection of stories set around Cape Canaveral. Moon missions and shuttle launches take a backseat to the earthly predicaments faced by the eclectic cast of Boy Scouts, gangsters, grandmothers and beauty queens. While contemporary fiction often portrays Florida as a big, swampy freak show, Ryan treats these lovable space cadets with affection.”

— The Atlanta Journal-Constitution

“Ryan is an adept medium who moves with comfortable ease between characters at different ages and stages of life.”

The Atlanta Journal-Constitution (PB release)

“Ryan brings a wry sense of intimacy to these dreamers who are always searching for a better life, for something new.”


“In The Dream Life of Astronauts, Patrick Ryan flies further into a little fictional empyrean he’s made all his own. Peopled by kookily sad denizens of Florida’s Space Coast, whose dreams rarely achieve liftoff without crashing and burning, Ryan’s stories are filled with a wan tenderness and spectacular lack of condescension.”

Thomas Mallon, “Year in Reading,” The New York Times Book Review

“Patrick Ryan’s latest, The Dream Life of Astronauts, is an exquisitely crafted collection of short stories set in Merritt Island, Florida — better known as the home of Cape Canaveral….But the author’s intimate, character-driven narratives draw their power more from family dynamics than they do launch pads or rocket boosters.”

— Electric Literature

“A former astronaut plagued by his own inner demons becomes obsessed with a teen boy; a teen beauty queen must decide what to do about her unplanned pregnancy. There is humanity and heart in each one of these tales, all rendered with nuance and depth that will leave a mark on your thoughts long past the final pages.”

— Refinery29

“Ryan conjures this rich variety of intriguing souls with consummate versatility.”

Nashville Scene

“The sensation that, even as each of us is isolated, we’re all connected haunts these stories and makes the heart skip a beat before relief.”

— Fiction Writers Review

“Whether it’s an ex-Mobster in the witness protection program or a NASA engineer caught in a troubling affair, Patrick Ryan blends humor with heartbreak to create a work of art in fiction.”

— Signature Reads

“[Ryan] illuminates these characters with pitch-perfect dialogue and period references that capture the various decades in which the stories take place. In the end, he uses a symbol of mankind’s greatest achievement as an ironic yardstick for the more earthbound interactions of his sorrowful characters.”

Publishers Weekly

“Ryan highlights the quirks of ordinary life in a place known for the extraordinary in this sharp and funny collection.”

Kirkus Reviews

“Ryan is a gifted writer; these stories are artfully constructed, thought provoking, sometimes disturbing, yet often funny. Some of them will no doubt make readers squirm, but this is a fine, hard-hitting collection.”

— Booklist

“It’s wonderful to discover in Patrick Ryan’s latest book that he still has a keen sense for the oftentimes absurd/comic situations people stumble into in life while earnestly pursuing their goals.”

Lonesome Reader

“From the vantage point of the moon, even the explosions of our brief, earthbound lives would seem art, and this is indeed what Patrick Ryan manages in The Dream Life of Astronauts. This is a collection to return to for its honesty and humor, its plain, recognizable beauty.”

— The Chattahoochee Review

“Whether he is writing of a teen-aged boy with a crush on an astronaut, a grandmother contemplating an affair with her driving instructor, a teen-aged girl wanting to become Miss America or a mobster living in a retirement community, Mr. Ryan renders these stories with compassion.”

 — QueerReader

“Patrick Ryan’s stories are comedies that can just as easily be read as tragedies. They are stories of isolated individuals bundled together into the families that define them. They are stories that moved me beyond words.”

 Ann Patchett

“I loved every single one of the stories in The Dream Life of Astronauts. Patrick Ryan is a very funny, smart and gifted writer.”

— Richard Russo

“This is a beautiful collection of short stories about people who have been pushed to the very furthest edges of themselves — which is, of course, where all the interesting things in a human life are. It’s impossible not to love these characters. It’s also impossible not to worry about them as you witness their grasping, hopeful (and sometimes deluded) efforts. You want them to be redeemed, you want them to find connection, you want them to restore their dignity, but — most of all — you want them to be at peace. Patrick Ryan manages to bring each character to a place of epiphany, but without once undermining or cheapening the authenticity of their struggle. This is a writer who knows well both the depths and the possibilities of the human heart.”

— Elizabeth Gilbert

“These stories are filled with so many surprises and with so much yearning that it’s palpable. They’ll launch you right out of your comfort zone…Patrick Ryan has aimed for the stars and made it.” 

Ann Beattie

“Patrick Ryan’s beautiful collection, The Dream Life of Astronauts, is set in the actual shadow of the space program, on Cape Canaveral and Merritt Island in the 1970s and 80s, where people watch the rockets take off from their backyards. It’s a sensitive and heart-wrenching portrait of lives lived up against the glamour and tragedy of space travel, struggling with their own dreams of liftoff and escape.”

— Maile Meloy

“Patrick Ryan may well be the most agile short story writer of our day. The Dream Life of Astronauts proves his dashing dexterity, his canny wisdom, his honest-to-god heart. These stories are centrifugal, each one spinning out and in, from a fixed moment in history to the nearly infinite flukes of desire and destiny. No one captures longing, that dark side of imagination’s moon, like Patrick Ryan.”

— Claire Vaye Watkins

from the publisher:

In nine unforgettable stories, all set in and around Cape Canaveral, Patrick Ryan showcases his masterly understanding of regret and hope, relationships and family, and the universal longing for love.

The Dream Life of Astronauts balances heartbreak with wry humor as its characters try to make sense of the paths they find themselves on. A would-be Miss America auditions for a shady local talent scout over vodka and Sunny D; a NASA engineer begins to wonder if the woman he’s having an affair with is slowly poisoning her husband; a Boy Scout troop leader, recovering from a stroke, tries to protect one of his scouts from being bullied by his own sons; an ex-mobster living in witness protection feuds with the busy-body head of his condo board; a grandmother, sentenced to Driver’s Ed after a traffic accident, surprises herself by falling for her instructor.

Set against landmark moments—the first moon launch, Watergate, the Challenger explosion—these private dramas unfurl in startling ways. The Dream Life of Astronauts ratifies the emergence of an indelible new talent in fiction.

Please buy it at your local bookstore or order it here.

Actor Michael Emerson performing “Fountain of Youth” (from The Dream Life of Astronauts) for Swamp Radio: