"Much of the best American fiction takes as its subject the peculiar humor, density, and agony of local landscapes. Writers like Sherwood Anderson, William Faulkner, Toni Morrison, and Carson McCullers, at their best, dissected the depths of influence that the American environment has on human conduct and imagination. J. Ryan Sommers' debut book, Conduits: The Ballad of Jinx Jenkins, picks up this tradition and infuses it with a healthy dose of fantasy and magic. But for all of the postmodern conceits and vaguely familiar fantasy worlds, at bottom Sommers' collection is fundamentally focused on character. The book's greatest strength is the homespun phenomenology that is American life, a sense of aimlessness and purposelessness that nevertheless pulses with wonder and the assuredness of meaning, however vague and elusive that meaning is.
At the center of the collection is Jinx Jenkins, whom, as his name implies, can't get a break. He's homeless and lives on the SkyTram that encircles the Green Valley, a fictionalized Chicagoland that, as one narrator puts it, "exists in a long-forgotten corner of the American dream." Jinx is filthy, homeless, and completely outcast from society. He is a true outlaw for his nastiness and shamelessness. As other characters come and go through the story cycle, a la Anderson's Winesburg, Ohio, Jenkins is this textual world's George Willard, always present and adding his lens, even if he himself isn't doing anything.
Elsewhere we find a vaster set of characters picked right from the stuff of both everyday life and the phantoms of the mind: the shy and lonely Gregg Ryan, operator for the aforementioned SkyTram, the bookish boy scout Pierre Abbe stumbling upon the legendary beast Ya'hootie, who is much smaller and less frightening than the tales of his theatrical troop leader. There is also Mac, the mysterious ballpark beer vendor who brushes every sale with an onslaught of rhymes whose cadences hilariously imitate those of late night radio ads, and Jimmy, the apprentice vendor who can't resist the urge to investigate the elder Mac as both man and myth. These are just few examples from the menagerie of Conduits' bizarre and familiar fictional world. All of these characters are people we know, people with alienating quirks, people whose imaginations run far ahead from the stifling realities of their lives. One can't help but be drawn to them.
In the end, these are stories that adults would tell had they not lost their capacity for imagination in spite of the traumas and indignities of growing up. Sommers is not subtle in his allegorizing of our American life, but in the end, this is a strength and not a weakness of his book. His diction is often romantic and full of grandeur, which goes a long way in framing his stories somewhere between the mythic and the mundane. He is fully aware of this fundamental dissonance in the American mind, that divinely profane concoction of drudgery and excitement, of boredom and transcendence. One can only be eager to see where this insight leads him in his next book." Connor Stratman, Midwest Book Reviewer
"J. Ryan Sommers has created a fantasy world (county) and uses each short story to independently develop several characters. As you piece together each character you get a unique description of some part of Green Valley county. The stories are intertwined slightly, sometimes cleverly. At the end of this book, the first part of this series, you want more. I recommend this book, and will be waiting for future installments. I also want to mention the cover art is great and sets the mood." -Charles Rush, Amazon Reviewer