Prudence in Hollywood: And Other Stories
by Ralph Cissne
Morgan Road

"The days of a recovering love junkie are filled with resolution... I resolved to go clean, to stop worshiping the moon... the gravitational pull... will not release me."

Every vignette in this collection of fourteen short stories can be compared to characters in a play who make their humble or extravagant entrances, engage in brief excerpts from life, and, with a surprise ending, exit stage left. A single story averages ten to thirty minutes to read. The genius of the author’s plots are the twists and turns that precipitously balance over the line between melancholy and inspirational.

Another specialty of Cissne is tossing shrewd insights into the mix at the least expected moment. In “Lover Boy” the story is told from the viewpoint of Claudette’s lover. When she avoids the subject at hand, he comments that women have their characteristic tells. In the title story, the male admirer describes how Prudence sent him to her gynecologist before she would engage in sex. The scene closes with a chocolate ice cream escapade in the kitchen. Sometimes the story’s protagonist is a young, savvy female, like “Alpha Girl” whose “family is blended. That’s the polite way of saying it’s broken.” Growing up with the Internet, she quips over her uncle’s surgery scars, stating that “No one shares photographs of old people on Snapchat.” In the summertime, she gets her reddish-blonde hair cut and donates it to kids with cancer.

The clever turn of both plot and words may partially derive from the fact that the author’s friend is a stand-up comedy guru, as is one of his story characters. The finesse employed in setting the romantic and sexual scenes is a credit to any author, and his stage settings are as carefully arranged as if drawn by an artist. As the characters begin to interact, this quickly fades until we see only the colorful world of real life and hear the clink of ice melting in glasses.

Clearly, Cissne is not a novice at his craft. Several of the stories in this collection have been published in magazines. “Prudence in Hollywood,” for example, was published in Playboy. While his introduction claims that he is an award-winning poet and a novelist, it neglects to mention that he is also a published advocate on health issues. As such, Cissne makes good use of his short story platform to speak out on the benefits of exercise and vegetarian diets, as well as against the negatives of cigarette smoking and eating junk food.

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