Driving in Cars with Homeless Men: Stories (Pitt Drue Heinz Lit Prize) (Hardcover)

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Staff Reviews

Bold and honest, Wisel's stories trace the lives of four women as they drift across class and cultural divides in and around Boston. The stories cover a range of eras in the characters’ lives - from reflecting on childhood and teen memories, to college aged and wasted, to in debt, still wasted, and barely holding it together mid-twenties, all the way to early middle age and figuring out more about what you don’t know than what you do. And they’re all, in different ways, coming of age stories, as the four women find strengths and soft spots within themselves and their lives on the edge. The stories are each razor sharply defined individual points, and then the book comes together as a whole as those points overlap and create an immersive portrait of time, people, and place. The Drue Heinz prize has been a launching pad for some great writers’ careers, and I, for one, am looking forward to Wisel joining that bunch.

— Chris Lee


A Library Journal Best Book of 2019

"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." —Wendy Wright, Pittsburgh Post-Gazette​

Driving in Cars with Homeless Men is a love letter to women moving through violence, set in the streets and the bars, the old homes, the tiny apartments, and the landscape of a working-class Boston. Serena, Frankie, Raffa, and Nat collide and break apart like pool balls to come back together in an imagined post-divorce future. Through the gritty, unraveling truths of their lives, they find themselves in the bed of an overdosed lover, through the panting tongue of a rescue dog who is equally as dislanguaged as his owner, in the studio apartment of a compulsive liar, sitting backward but going forward in the galley of an airplane, in relationships that are at once playgrounds and cages. Homeless Men is the collective story of women whose lives careen back into the past, to the places where pain lurks and haunts. With riotous energy and rage, they run towards the future in the hopes of untangling themselves from failure to succeed and fail again.

About the Author

Kate Wisel is a native of Boston. Her fiction, nonfiction, and poetry has appeared, or is forthcoming, in publications that include Gulf CoastNew Ohio ReviewTin House online, Redivider as winner of the Beacon Street prize, and on the Boston subway as winner of the “Poetry on the T” contest. Kate Wisel lives in Chicago. 

Praise For…

“You can hear the crackle of heat and the roar of a powerful fire burning through these pages. Young angry women, brokenhearted mothers, and men who are lost to themselves and others struggle in the world of Driving in Cars with Homeless Men. Close to the edge, fearful of love yet dying of longing, Serena, Frankie, Raffa, and Natalya are vital and tender. Their stories are incandescent.”—Min Jin Lee, 2019 Drue Heinz Literature Prize judge and  author of Free Food for Millionaires and Pachinko, finalist for the National Book Award

“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. These 20 linked short stories — some of them very short — offer up hard granules of truth about contemporary women contending with dispossession, oppression and violence. 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.”
Kathleen Rooney,The Chicago Tribune


"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 Citgo sign sinks, then disappears completely as we go down through the snake-cage flicker of the underpass.' The city, and its people, live, breathe, and flame on the page."
Nina MacLaughlin, The Boston Globe


"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."
Library Journal Starred Review; Best Books of 2019

"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."

“Kate Wisel is a fearless writer—with literary guts and a distinctive nitro style--and Driving in Cars with Homeless Men is a remarkable debut. The gritty lyricism of her voice makes me think of punk rock and blown mufflers and creaky bedsprings flavored with cigarette ash, red bull-and-vodka, gum stuck to the bottom of a Doc Marten, a little bit of Denis Johnson mixed up with a Janis Joplin howl. Welcome her. I can't wait to see what she does next.”
—Benjamin Percy, author of The Dark Net; Thrill Me; Red Moon; and Refresh, Refresh

“Kate Wisel’s women think like razor blades. They talk tough and love tougher, except how they love each other which is pure and deep, and ought to be enough, except it isn’t, ever. These women vibrate with life, with longing, with an urge toward self-annihilation, with hope. Their hope will break your heart the hardest. Along with the sentences, which seem to be written by angels, razor-blade toting angels. This is one architecturally stunning, linguistically dazzling, hyper-intelligent, heart-expanding debut.”
—Pam Houston, author of Deep Creek:  Finding Hope In the High Country

An uncommon fearlessness—a precise confidence—propels every sentence. There is a cold bite to these stories. Stark humor that slaps and stings. Dangerous, diligent fun that cannot fill the void. The lives of the four young women at the center of Driving in Cars with Homeless Men are a web of doomed experiments that edify in ways that cannot quite be articulated--they register, profoundly, on a visceral level. Kate Wisel is an important new artist with a uniquely potent voice, and this debut is cause for celebration. —Don De Grazia, author of American Skin
Product Details
ISBN: 9780822945680
ISBN-10: 0822945681
Publisher: University of Pittsburgh Press
Publication Date: October 1st, 2019
Pages: 185
Series: Pitt Drue Heinz Lit Prize