What are the neighbors up to, I wonder? Find out with Simon Webster’s new collection of flash fiction stories about a neighborhood full of misfits in We Live in the Dead End. Each of the fifteen stories in this collection introduces the reader to a citizen of an average Dublin neighborhood, though the secrets they hide prove to be anything but normal. Webster manages to walk a line that hovers above the classic hometown cast of characters, but laces it a strong dose of creepiness and suburban secrets.
The residents of this particular Irish cul-de-sac each hide a full closet of skeletons. At least one person’s even a murderer, though others have connections to organized crime and other vices behind closed doors. As these stories unfold, they expose not only the secrets that undermine everyday life, but the actions that crush everyday dreams and hopes. My favorite example has to be the husband whose jealousy and knowledge of his wife’s pet peeves, leads him to set coffee cup on her piano, which causes her to missing a pivotal career meeting. Some of them seem relatively innocent, like the judgy old man whose worldly woes can all resolved by a simple cigarette offered by a stranger. Webster’s stream-of-consciousness style allows for full immersion into these characters and creates a kind of neurotic tension the feels afraid to upset the status quo.
All the stories use this same stream of consciousness technique, which unifies the collection, but ultimately does cause a few of the characters to blend together. While it makes sense that each would feel completed isolated by problems that affect the whole neighborhood, one might hope for some variability among the stories. The flash aspect of the stories gives snapshots of these characters’ lives, but sometimes it doesn’t seem to carry through to completion. Some episodes contains details that could be explored deeper – most notably Kitty and Florence’s recovery from their assault – but the uniform nature of the collection leaves little room for variety. Finally, this collection, while eerie, needs just a touch more of the black humor that hints at the edges of these characters lives to really give it some pop. A little more comic relief would give the underlying dreariness much greater effect.
Simon Webster’s collection, We Live at the Dead End, gives a glimpse into the internal lives of suburbanites and the demon that haunt supposedly normal people. These secrets and the people who keep them, teter just out of reach of comfort interminably. Characters like a criminal with a Doctor Who obsession who picks up a murderer show us the way that secrets hide underneath a veneer of normalcy. These secrets remain forever on the edge, when the real darkness needs just a touch more action to highlight the creepiness. However, the creepiness imparted by these stories will leave readers minds thinking about Carver Street long after they’ve come to the end of the book.
Be sure to check out more of Simon Webster’s stories and find out where to find his book here!
Three out of five stars.
Page count: 146 pages
Favorite quote: “Veg is cheap, education is expensive and you need education to know veg is cheap but if you’re rich you probably don’t need to remember cabbage is good for you because you have chefs and things to worry about that for you, only the chefs don’t because they feed the rich on rich food and the rich eat it because of peer pressure and things.”