Ryan RidgeSep 13, 2015
University of Michigan Press 2014
Ryan Ridge's American Homes (University of Michigan Press, 2014) is at odds with category: it doesn't really fit neatly, or even at all, into any preconceived notion of what prose fiction should read like, or effect in the reader. Ridge's novella-length work is something more like a Lonely Planet travel guide, or the recovered fragments of some distant, arcane encyclopedia. But even Ridge isn't quite sure what it is. It just is. American Homes. It starts at Part III and moves through a prose-schematic of domestic spaces: walls, windows, attics, blinds, roofs, porches, chimneys, doors. American Homesoffers ontological conundra ("A Door is not a Door when Ajar.") It offers sage statistical insights (the Front Door "...accumulates more Annual Knuckle Precipitation than both the Back Door and Side Door combined.") It offers its own literary criticism, of itself ("The Porch Swing is a Post-Cynical literary device... It is also the symbol of freedom in the book American Homes.")
But maybe "What category?" is the wrong question. Updike wrote, and was later quoted by Ryan Ridge in his book, American Homes: "What art offers is space." And what Ryan Ridge does with the spaces his art allows him to explore, and substantiate, is unexpected, bright, and often, funny. What you slowly begin to suspect as you read, is that American homes are not just American homes. As for the book, American Homes, there is at least what Ridge himself defines it as. "American Homes is targeted at affluent women with a flair for the unconventional. American Homes is aimed at men who are comfortable with their feelings about their feelings. American Homes is feeling much better. American Homes is never worse. American Homes is an obstacle course. American Homes is between shopping centers and the skeletons of factories. American Homes is distinctly American."