Before they were torn down in 2007, the Stateway Gardens public housing projects on Chicago's South Side were known as a hot-bed of poverty, drugs, gangs, and crime. But for some, like Tracy, the shy, intelligent young boy at the center of this collection of linked stories, they are simply home. This collection gives an intimate look at the hopes, dreams, failures and fortunes of a group of people growing up with the deck always stacked against them.
We are introduced from the first page to a cast of tenants living in the low-income housing project in the mid-1980s, individuals who recur across the collection, finding different ways to connect, disconnect and let one another down. But,...it’s these characters’ living space that is the book’s real protagonist. That is, the high-rises themselves take on traits and modes of agency that shift and evolve from story to story — each time a familiar name is brought back to the stage, he or she feels recontextualized, born anew ... The stories fit almost like pieces of a puzzle; Jacob’s limp in an early story turns out to result from an extremely bad drug trip in a later one. Because so many of the book’s elements come together in Stateway Condo Gentrification, the stories that follow have a richer energy; the characters, with the benefit of greater context, feel more nuanced ... In both fiction and real life, Stateway Gardens, like many of Chicago’s most storied housing projects, no longer stands. In its place, Drain’s collection exists as a fitting monument.
Capturing an intricate portrait of Stateway Gardens (a real place that was razed in 2007), Drain mines the idea that life in the projects could be both a thing to escape and something to nurture, a matter made more critical by the ticking clock of gentrification. A deep, vibrant collection.
A collection of linked short stories takes readers inside life in Chicago’s Stateway Gardens projects ... Drain, who grew up in Chicago, writes intimately of the human experiences of those who lived there ... Drain writes with fierce warmth about characters coping with crushing racism and poverty in this impressive debut.