I loved this book so much it warmed my cockles and chilled my bones all in one go. It made me laugh and cry. I booked marked passages I wanted to quote and ended up with 73 post-it notes sprouting from the wonderful We Live In The Dead End, written by Simon Webster.
Loneliness, loss, religion, bigotry, relationships, family, depression, hypocrisy, money, disability, marriage, abuse, childhood, death, or envy are the main themes explored in the book. The dead end refers to a 16-house cul-de-sac in the unfinished estate of an unnamed Irish town. In those houses, strange and touching characters live, hide or connect, strange characters whose plights make them human, characters whose pains are familiar, characters we catch in the present while they ponder their past and question their future.
Mrs Humble does her bit for the community, whilst talking to furniture and thinking of her son. Francesca plays the piano whilst her husband and marriage waste away. A young mother struggles to cope. Two bigoted ladies get fooled by their own religion. Pregnant Helena makes excuses for living with a narcissist. An old man grows weary and angry whilst on a health walk and lets it all out in a laugh-out-loud monologue.
“ “You need a purpose he says”. He’s right though, a purpose makes the walks bearable, but Christ you should have heard his suggestions! Bird spotting! Pine cone collecting![…] Christ. What a stupid baldy dope. He said last week he’d found a lump on his balls. I was careful not to say “Oh good.”
Those are a few of the characters you will meet whilst taking a stroll through the dead end and peaking through every house. Ordinary on the outside, they all unveil a hidden side or secrets that eventually get revealed. Each chapter paints an interesting story, a good bit of nosing into one of the characters life. Just when you think that this is all there is to it, Simon Webster will masterfully hit you with an additional detail, chilling, sad or amusing, a revelation that will change the story, will propel it into another dimension, giving it an additional depth and also reminding us that what we see of others is only ever the tip of the iceberg, that the human race is more complex than it sometimes appears, that everyone has baggage, big or small.
This distortion between perception and reality is wonderfully explored and never exaggerated; Simon Webster doesn’t shy away from delving into quite a few uneasy subjects with an uncritical candour that allows the reader to make their own conclusions and feel how they want to feel about any of the situations he depicts.
Mr Webster’s style is alternatively quirky, highly amusing or coated in bleakness but it’s always punchy and touching and never, ever dull.
“ As a girl she played in the fields that swept away these new streets making daisy chains and running amongst the trees that grew all along the river. She called the modest cluster of trees The Enchanted Forest and would approach the tallest oak that has been decided was were the Fairy Queen lived. Daily she would present her latest daisy chain to the tree and rest it at the roots singing “Fairy Queen, Fairy Queen, I’ve made a daisy chain for you!” Then she’d run home to tell daddy and wait excitedly until the next day after school when she would drop her satchel in the hall and run to the tree where there was always a bit of wool tied to one of the branches and a lollipop dangling at the end for her to eat after dinner […] this was still part of her, long after she stopped believing in the Fairy Queen.”
“Kitty proded the calculator buttons with as much force as she did her light switches at home. Hers was ageneration raised on mechanical buttons and switches not electronic ones. Oomph was necessary. She leaned back from the tiny machine and contorted her face at the oddness of it all, opening her mouth and tensing her cheek muscles so they pulled down her lower eyelids. Florence looked at Kitty’s face with some displeasure.
What’s the matter now?
Is this thing on? I don’t think it’s on.
It’s a solar-powered one, said Florence, hold it up to the light. […]
I don’t think I want to stand on a chair Flo, I’m far too old for all that.”
There’s an undisclosed compassion that run through the book and that culminates into the wonderful, hopeful ending – that had me bust into tears on the train by the way, freeing me a space on the 7.43 for good.
With this book, Simon Webster treats us to a wide array of realistic and multidimensional characters that will get us thinking about life and death and everything in between, and wonder what our neighbours might be up to.
A brilliant depiction of the human condition, a must read.
You can purchase a copy of We Live In The Dead End here.
Simon Webster is an Irish writer whose stories have appeared in many journals including Visual Verse, The Fiction Pool, Ellipsis, Occulum, The Airgonaut and Dodging The Rain. He is also editor of the online literary journal The Cabinet Of Heed.
His book We Live In The Dead End is a collection of 15 connected short stories set in the cul de sac of an unfinished housing estate.
Reviewed by Barbara F Jones
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