If we are to judge by his writing, Alabama native Karl Koweski isn’t the kind of “good ol’ boy” that Dixie seems to be known for producing. His latest short story collection, KocKblockers, is as far from southern hospitality and charm as one can get. What Mr. Koweski implores in his writing is a twisted mix of grittiness, crudity, and sly humor.
While KocKblockers is not a book that all readers will enjoy, it is one that everyone should respect. Koweski takes characters (mainly men) who are greedy, self-destructive, vile, and disloyal, and he makes them relatable; more so, he makes us root for many of them.
In “Charlie Dancer was a Dirty Cop,” one of Koweski’s most engaging stories, Ohms can’t shake his past, and it catches up with him at Whiskey Double Tap. Koweski’s description of the bar being “a good place to go when you want to massage your misery without having to worry about combing your hair” is perfection. He creates environments that are easily imagined because we know these places, even if we don’t want to know them. The narrative involves drugs, violence, deception, and lust. All of the characteristics begin separately at first, but they blend frantically as the story nears its end. The final message is one that is bleak: selfishness sometimes prevails.
The best story in KocKblockers is “The Sunnybrook Retreat.” In this story, Koweski delivers a tale of sexual repression. A group of men are in Sunnybrook rehab for various deviant acts. Koweski establishes the facility early on as being cold, uninviting, and, ultimately, unhelpful, although the advertisement of the place leads us to believe otherwise. After all, it is said“ to assist in developing a healthy and productive lifestyle that will benefit you and your family.” Aren’t many dangerous people and places masking themselves as friendly redeemers?
As “The Sunnybrook Retreat” progresses, things get threatening. Doctors manipulate patients. Patients lose their sense of reality. One patient asks if he’s making progress, but the doctor tells him that he’s only “acting better.” Ah, the confusion. What is truth? How much of life is an act? Koweski hits big ideas in his collection, and many of them strike hard.
KocKblockers is very dark—very, very dark in places. “A Good John” and “Truly Defective,” while both recognizably well developed and well written, are too mean-spirited for my personal taste. I like redemption and hopefulness. Still, even for an optimist like myself, there is plenty to appreciate in Koweski’s collection.
For readers who enjoy the bleaker side of life or uncovering the seedy underbelly of rural America, KocKblockers is a collection that you’ll love.