Driving in Cars with Homeless Men

Univ. of Pittsburgh. Oct. 2019. 192p. ISBN 9780822945680. $23.
This impressive first collection of short fiction from Wisel follows working-class Boston girls Serena, Frankie, Raffa, and Natalya through their turbulent childhoods and complicated young adult lives. Chapters ricochet between their vantage points and life stages, following the four as they navigate absent fathers and bad boyfriends, substance abuse and violence, leaving readers slightly off-balance—the better to convey the urgent and messy worlds through which they traverse. But Wisel, winner of Drue Heinz Literature Prize, never allows us to pity her protagonists, who are tenacious, loyal to one another, and intelligent; Frankie says, “I have to admit, fighting was exciting. It made me feel proactive, like I was using some kind of gym membership, rhetorical kickboxing.” The women’s fierce bonds, in particular, are wonderfully portrayed. Wisel’s prose is strobelike, illuminating the gritty landscape with small, powerful details—of a pregnant women, “when her T-shirt rose the purple swell to her bellybutton looked like a black eye”; wedding guests who “dance like a bunch of Sims on coke.”
VERDICT This dynamic--and often harrowing--collection beautifully spotlights lives that are rough around the edges; not standard fare but highly recommended.
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