Gruel, S.C.—Where’s William Tecumseh Sherman when you really need him?
No doubt about it, the rural community of Gruel, S.C.—“somewhere in the middle of nowhere, between the towns of Forty-Five and Cross Blood”— has seen better days.
Folks are hard to find even downtown, either inside Roughhouse Billiards or around the crumbling statue of Colonel Dill, Gruel’s only Civil War hero.
George Singleton, five books into a wickedly funny career, is fast becoming the literary laureate of downtrodden, over-educated, heartsick Southerners. Drowning in Gruel is yet another smart, goofy, nearly brilliant take on big dreamers who settle marvelously below expectations.
Singleton’s best stuff—including the sly “The Novels of Raymond Carver,” starring an English professor gone to seed who teaches a popular college course that requires no reading (Carver never wrote a novel)—mixes gleefully detailed prose with quirky insights and unexpected, epiphanies. Many take place inside the pool hall, where bartender Jeff serves up chili-dogs and tells those suffering from low spirits not to worry, that “he’d met more desperate people in Gruel.”
There are a few stories here and there that seem more like situations than sustained narratives, but few readers will find a more comfortable, easy place to hang than Singleton’s drowsy burg.
[ED—Singleton is an occasional contributor to Paste.]