To call a short story collection 'gritty' — as in having strong qualities of tough uncompromising realism — is a bit commonplace, but Kate Wisel’s debut, Driving in Cars With Homeless Men, is gritty in the best sense ... By focusing on the lives and friendships of four main characters living in working-class Boston, as Wisel depicts the overlapping struggles of Serena, Frankie, Raffa and Natalya, so too does she reveal bigger realities about substance abuse, family, anger and hope ... With a knowing and experienced eye, Wisel describes the down-and-out milieus of her protagonists in wry but never condescending detail ... Wisel makes scintillating use of the flash fiction form ... interspersing such extremely brief stories amid the more traditional-length stories lets her heighten the sweep and intensity of the book’s ongoing dramas. Each tiny piece shines like a shard in the larger mosaic Wisel is assembling ... Unpleasant as the situations her female characters endure, Wisel illuminates the overall darkness with bursts of wit and humor.
... sharp and propulsive ... These fierce, fiery Boston-set stories are jagged but never jaded ... Wisel’s characters possess a steely wisdom, the kind of smarts born out of bad nights and big hurts, a kind of knowing forged in pain and aimed, ultimately, toward generosity, humor, and love. Wisel writes with a poet’s attention to cadence and precision of description ... The city, and its people, live, breathe, and flame on the page.
... [an] impressive first collection ... Wisel never allows us to pity her protagonists, who are tenacious, loyal to one another, and intelligent ... The women’s fierce bonds, in particular, are wonderfully portrayed. Wisel’s prose is strobelike, illuminating the gritty landscape with small, powerful details ... This dynamic--and often harrowing--collection beautifully spotlights lives that are rough around the edges; not standard fare but highly recommended.
Unflinching in its portrayal of the violence visited upon her protagonists, Ms. Wisel’s stories move back and forth in time to examine the difficulty of transcending one’s history, while reminding readers that the work of becoming one’s best self can only be achieved with love and support — not just from others, but from oneself ... The book is structured to be disorienting and alienating, much like the interior lives of the protagonists. The stories are snapshots of time periods in their lives, bouncing back and forth between adolescence and adulthood, and peripheral characters come and go. As a result, the book requires more effort than most literary fiction — the reader will need to piece the stories together both chronologically and narratively — but for the dedicated bibliophile, the effort is rewarded by Ms. Wisel’s preternatural understanding of the complicated nature of her heroines.
It’s Girls without all the privilege and a fictionalized version of Lisa Taddeo’s Three Women (2019), if the three women were friends. Bringing to life some of the smaller situations that have colored the #MeToo movement, this is fierce and emphatic.