What We’re Reading: Cul De Sac: Stories by Scott Wrobel
Scott Wrobel’s book of short stories are snapshots of the lives of men living in a suburban cul de sac. The men in these stories are tragically misunderstood, and their lives display a desperate humor, with a constant underbelly of embarrassment, fear, and frustration. The humor infused in every story is the uncomfortable kind: should we be laughing at an old man who thinks he’s becoming a coyote, going bonkers with the burden of his live-in pot-smoking son and crazy grandkids? Or as another older white man drunkenly pisses in his neighbors for-sale house as a way to dissuade a black family from buying it? The stories are unflinchingly honest to their character’s faults and fuck-ups, but also to their tiny, inner moments of reflection, where we begin to understand them. And then we begin to wonder if we’re going insane.
This fictional world within the cul de sac sucks us in, in the way that car crashes make us rubberneck as we drive by: we can’t look away at the horror before us. We can’t help ourselves, maybe because amidst all the crazy happening in the cul de sac, there is also a lot of reality that we recognize from our own lives. There are sick kids, lazy kids, kids too wise for their age, wives with terminal cancer, obese shut-in wives, and lots of scotch to demand the attention of the men. These men are tired, they are repressed (both sexually and emotionally), they say “fuck” a lot, and ultimately, they are just trying to get through the day.
Unlike these tired men, Wrobel’s writing is crisp, blunt, and very awake. His moments of humor, sadness, and indifference are masterfully punctuated. Though a book of separate stories, each story is a continuation of the one before, as we shift from one house’s perspective to another, while constantly keeping all the neighbors in our peripheral vision. The first section of the book, “Regular Guys” is filled with stories from the different men in the cul de sac, while the last section, “The Ballad of Gary Weigard,” focuses on just one of those men and his family, and the stories in this section feel more like chapters in a novella. You don’t leave the book loving these men, but rather, resigning yourself to understanding them, thanks to the skillfull writing of Wrobel.
Wrobel’s previous accomplishments include winning the Loft Mentor Series Fiction Award, as well as the Third Coast 2008 Nonfiction Award. He’s been published in many places, including Great River Review, Minnesota Monthly, Night Train, Sententia, Third Coast, and more.
What books make you squirm, laugh, and get depressed all at once?