Winner of this year’s Drue Heinz Prize for short fiction, Block’s strong debut collection of a dozen stories offers a world on wheels, full of random encounters and uncertain outcomes, all filtered through working-class sensibilities. In the title piece, a woman ill-at-ease in a new city after breaking up with her boyfriend watches from her car as someone smashes into a vehicle parked near her. She gives chase, overtaking the car-basher only to find another woman more confused than she. A young guy living in a boardinghouse in his hometown, car- and jobless, gets a lift and a hand from an older man down the hall to go home and put up new wallpaper for his mother, in “Edith Drogan’s Uncle Is Dead,” but he has to relive some painful memories and listen to a sad story from his coworker before they’re through. The protagonist of “In the City of the Living” is off to college in Memphis, escaping the Outer Banks island where he was raised, but the friend he’s hitching a ride with, and his friend’s brother—losers both—turn the trip from a promising fresh start into something destined to drag everybody down.
With much of the gloom but a shade less doom than the hard-bitten noir fiction these stories resemble, the moodiness, and pervasive sense of a generation at odds with its future, make Block a writer worth watching.