PositiveThe Chicago ReaderAleks’s travails are engaging in no small part because of Meno’s sure grasp of Chicago geography and the city’s topographic, economic, racial, and ethnic particularities. It’s a rich and underexplored terrain in both literature and pop culture. This is not the Chicago of Ferris Bueller, the Blues Brothers, or Al Capone, but the patchwork, maddeningly contradictory city longtime residents know and grudgingly adore. The neighborhood in which Aleks has memorized every broken piece of sidewalk is far away from the lakefront or any other aspect the city offers up to outsiders and tourists. When he finds himself downtown, he’s tentative and feels undereducated and poorly dressed, as too many lifelong Chicagoans do ... despite the long odds stacked against his characters, Meno keeps their story buoyant when it could have been a maudlin litany of misery and complaint. These people have hope and keep trying. They’re hopelessly optimistic in their own twisted way ... What this story gets so right is how so many of us live in the past and the present all at once.
PositiveThe Chicago ReaderWhat starts out as a low-key portrait of a group of ordinary unsatisfied people trying something new winds up a sometimes sinister but always philosophical meditation on the quest for deeper meaning ... There were many times while reading the book that I got mixed up about which character was being depicted. But this isn’t a criticism. By leaving them half-realized and vague, his heroes become universal and also easily relatable to a variety of readers. They’re like unfinished costumes anyone could slip into. The acting exercises do nothing to lessen the characters’ interchangeability ... The ending may be a bit too Twilight Zone for its own good in being weird for the sake of weird but if I ever see a flyer for a free acting class, I will run the other way. I might even tear it off the wall and throw it in the trash as a public service. Some doors are best left unopened.
PanChicago ReaderThese, plus a half dozen friends, lovers, and hangers-on are slammed into one another to evoke this novel’s sprawling, yet bizarrely tunnel-vision universe...The author, Adam Levin, also inserts offstage commentary, so as to make sure his dumb readers know what they’re reading is fiction, or lies, as he likes to call them...One would think that a catastrophic event—referred to sometimes as the \'terrestrial anomaly\' or 11/17, after the day it occurred in 2021—might lend the story some weight...But it comes off as a mere plot point or inciting incident (in creative writing-speak)...Emotionally, it feels like the kind of fantasy a child might come up with: what if everyone who loved me was wiped off the face of the earth?...What would I do?...Who would love me then?...The answer, in this case, is an annoying little bird named after a great Russian writer...After wandering through the self-loathing wilderness of these pages for over a week, when Gladman finally straps on his suicide mask and has highlights from his miserable life flash before his eyes, it is sweet relief for this reader as well.
Wendy A. Woloson
PositiveChicago ReaderIn Crap: A History of Cheap Stuff in America (University of Chicago Press), Wendy Woloson’s heavily researched book devoted to the many objects and ideas under that moniker, she does her level best to find a definition but doesn’t quite nail it down. But it’s not for lack of trying. Crap, it turns out, is an elusive target. In broad terms—as her subtitle indicates—the book is a history of cheap stuff in America ...Woloson makes some compelling discoveries and connections, especially where etymology is concerned ... If a reader were to take a shot every time Woloson used “crap” in her book, they’d die of cirrhosis halfway through. Woloson is nothing if not thorough, giving a dozen examples where two or three might have sufficed. She clearly loved doing the research and couldn’t help sharing, but at times the litany of lies, scams, and tricks becomes tiresome. But no matter how much crap she lets fly, I couldn’t shake the nagging feeling that all crap is not the same. It’s not really the products themselves that are at the heart of her book: it’s the schemes and schemers who lighten our wallets which is its true subject. They’ve figured out a million ways to take us and as many to make us feel happy to be taken. We’re covered in it but keep asking for more.
RaveVol 1. BrooklynAn encyclopedic elegy to a way of eating and living, it is mournful, exhaustive, and deadpan funny in roughly equal measure. It is also unlike any book I have ever read ... For long stretches his book is a kind of literary tomb, for as Ratner’s and Schimmel’s are replaced by Starbucks and Shake Shack, an entire culture dies with them ... by celebrating this vanishing industry Katchor amply illustrates what we lose when we give in to monoculture ... Ben Katchor has devoted much of his career to evoking an imagined world of strangely specific and archaic businesses and characters. By combing through expired phonebooks, languishing archives, and recording oral histories with aged survivors to assemble this unique book he has crafted a monument to an institution his longtime readers couldn’t be blamed for thinking he could have invented. It is a kind of backstory to the comic strips he’s best known for. I can see Julius Knipfl eating kugel in the window of one of these long-gone diners clear as day.
RaveVol. 1 Brooklyn[A] definitive portrait ... By a combination of meticulous research and a smooth prose style, Asher has fashioned a narrative that is both a joy to read and is utterly convincing. I’ve been heavily invested in Algren’s work for over thirty years, but learned many new things from this book ... One of the most valuable contributions Asher has made is to flesh out the supporting characters in Algren’s life ... Through three-dimensional portraits of the people and places key to the man’s life, Asher has fashioned as full a picture of Algren as any of his long-suffering fans could hope for ... Anyone who reads Asher’s book will be convinced that Nelson Algren deserves a place in the canon.
Linn Ullmann Trans. by Thilo Reinhold
RaveHyperallergic[Ullmann\'s] approach pays tribute to her parents while not allowing their acclaim to overshadow her experiences. It is a spare, beautiful portrait of an unusual childhood with unique people ... One of Unquiet’s great strengths is Ullmann’s seamless weaving of time periods, transcripts from the audio recordings, and musings about memory, family, and fame. There’s an internal rhythm to the prose which is rarely stymied by sentimentality or preciousness, and yet the deep well of emotion just below the surface is palpable throughout ... even without knowing her parents were world-renowned, Unquiet would resonate powerfully because many of the issues it explores are common to parent-child relationships ... Ullmann shows that it is difficult but possible to carve out one’s own identity while honoring and loving one’s mother and father, no matter how hard they make it to do so. It’s a high-wire act few writers have performed with such grace.
RaveThe Chicago Reader...one of the most realistic and believable autopsies of a marriage I've ever read ... His literary voice is nakedly emotional one minute and brutally funny the next, but it rarely produces a false note. McClanahan has earned many accolades in the indie-lit scene; The Sarah Book should introduce him to the wider audience his work richly deserves ... McClanahan shows how everyone we get involved with becomes a part of us forever. The Sarah Book is a testament to how the weight of one's failings can be borne with grace.
RaveThe Chicago Tribune...engrossing...Lepore's book is as much about all the people, including herself, who project meaning and significance onto the work and personality of Joe Gould as it is about the man himself. Throughout history there have been peculiar characters who have captured the imagination of everyone they come into contact with, blinding them to obvious flaws and permitting all of us to imagine wonders just beyond what most of us can fathom. We owe Lepore a debt of gratitude for re-introducing us to one of the strangest strangers to have ever walked among us.
RaveThe Chicago TribuneBob Mehr's thoroughly researched and eminently readable biography of The Replacements, is the type of book any band (or any artist of any kind, for that matter) would kill for.
PositiveThe Chicago TribuneFishman's book lays plain the contradictions and sacrifices inherent in the immigrant experience. Sometimes the symbols and metaphors are a bit too on the nose: the car the Rubins drive west is the Escape and the cowboy Maya meets is named Marion, like John Wayne. But more often than not, this book is an eloquent and uncynical tale of how far people must travel to find out what they truly want and who they truly are.
MixedChicago TribuneThe blessing and the curse of an anthology is that it is both too much and not enough. There are no editorial notes in this volume, aside from an index of terms and an introduction — more accurately a tribute or appreciation — by the New Yorker's Adam Gopnik. It is a book to dip into and out of rather than to be enjoyed as a continuous narrative. In the best-case scenario it will inspire a few readers to track down the books Hughes published during his lifetime.