Andover teacher writes dark comedy on life in the suburbs

  • Article by: SHANNON PRATHER , Star Tribune
  • Updated: April 16, 2013 - 10:56 PM

The first work of fiction by Scott Wrobel, a newcomer to the ’burbs, is provocative. But it’s not about Andover, he says, but a nameless city tied to no specific locale.

Initially, it felt like selling out.

Wooed by good schools and creature comforts, aspiring author and English teacher Scott Wrobel set aside his reservations about America’s middle ground and moved to the suburbs.

Not just any suburb, but the “glistening, showy” cul-de-sacs of Andover.

The sameness of the suburbs is where creative impulses wither and die, Wrobel feared.

But the peculiarities of suburban life — the Welcome Wagon of neighbors, the happy hour around portable driveway fire pits, the sight of someone power washing his mailbox in goggles and a rain slicker — sparked something in him.

Wrobel, who teaches creative writing at Anoka-Ramsey Community College, began studying his new surroundings, and, last year, his first collection of short stories, “Cul de Sac,” was released by independent publisher Sententia Books. It’s a dark comedy that reveals the lives and inner thoughts of eight middle-aged guys living on a cul-de-sac. The book is provocative. Some of his characters are unapologetically racist and homophobic. His characters do things that make you laugh and cringe.

Wrobel, 44, said his book could be set in any American suburb, but the nameless “third-ring suburb” and references to the St. Paul Winter Carnival, Como Zoo, a Fun Fest and the “Fargo” accent make it feel as if Wrobel didn’t stray far from his own ’hood. He talked about himself and his book in an interview with the Star Tribune. Here’s the Q-and-A, edited for length.

Q: If you initially had a dim view of the suburbs, why settle in Andover?

A: Work, convenience initially, and we had small kids. We lived in Lindstrom in Chisago County. We wanted the kids to be in a neighborhood with other kids. We were just too isolated. That’s the reason we moved to the suburbs. We looked at the test scores for the schools and Andover Elementary was ranked really high. It was a great place when the kids were younger.

Q: Is it a great place for you as an adult?

A: It’s OK for me, but it’s not the ideal place for me. My ideal place would be on the edge of the Boundary Waters in a cabin. Anything that is remotely civilized is somewhere that’s not good for me.

I’ve sold out a lot. I’ve compromised. I swore I’d never have a cellphone. I swore I’ve never have a minivan. I swore I’d never have a house in the suburbs and be an ordinary person, but I am.

Q: What were your first impressions of suburban life?

A: It was a jolt from the country. I am not really gregarious. I am kind of a private person. Initially the Welcome Wagon was so intense and the neighborhood block parties they would have. People would have bonfires in their driveways. I think this is a phenomenon of the suburbs. People have the portable fire pits in the driveways. People just walk around from driveway to driveway having drinks and socializing and the kids run all over the place.

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