Brosky’s darkly witty stories describe the major and mundane problems facing ordinary Midwesterners.
The young and youngish, mostly male, characters in Brosky’s stories find their personal, self-devised method for dealing with the world challenged by what life throws their way. The protagonist of “Deer Tales” impulsively stakes a major decision—whether to move back to his hometown or stay in the city and pursue a career as an artist—on his success at playing a deer-hunting video game in the lobby bar of a Holiday Inn, only to find that he’s terrible at it. The phone hacker in “The Phreaks” wins a hacking challenge by whistling payphone tones to trick the computer system—“Nines was in his own world, with his eyes closed, running his fingers along every naked space of Ma Bell’s back, treating her the way a really good guy does to a woman he knows he doesn’t deserve”—only to see a lesser hacker make off with the girl he likes due to superior social skills. In the best stories, Brosky exploits this disconnect with a sharp eye for detail and a fine sense of absurdity that’s both darkly funny and subtly tragic, as when one of the Four Horsemen pulls up to a Wisconsin coffee bar for a double shot of espresso in “Apocolypse Wow!” The preconceptions the story’s characters have about the End Times, whether credulous or skeptical, fail to prepare them for the grimly underwhelming, almost bureaucratic nature of the disaster they face. The polite, apologetic Horseman doesn’t have many answers to give the anxious baristas, just weary resignation, a presence that wilts vegetation and a golden scale he has no idea what to do with. Occasionally, Brosky’s satirical style gets the better of his storytelling, leading to flat characters like the cartoonishly oblivious Christian aid worker in Darfur, dropped into the middle of a realistically brutal view of the crisis there in “On the Tenth Day I Kept It Down.” More often, though, he gets the balance right.
These stories about often-overlooked characters find sharp observations on the indignities of modern life.