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The Coast of Chicago

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The stolid landscape of Chicago suddenly turns dreamlike and otherworldly in Stuart Dybek's classic story collection. A child's collection of bottle caps becomes the tombstones of a graveyard. A lowly rightfielder's inexplicable death turns him into a martyr to baseball. Strains of Chopin floating down the tenement airshaft are transformed into a mysterious anthem of loss. The stolid landscape of Chicago suddenly turns dreamlike and otherworldly in Stuart Dybek's classic story collection. A child's collection of bottle caps becomes the tombstones of a graveyard. A lowly rightfielder's inexplicable death turns him into a martyr to baseball. Strains of Chopin floating down the tenement airshaft are transformed into a mysterious anthem of loss. Combining homely detail and heartbreakingly familiar voices with grand leaps of imagination, The Coast of Chicago is a masterpiece from one of America's most highly regarded writers.

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The stolid landscape of Chicago suddenly turns dreamlike and otherworldly in Stuart Dybek's classic story collection. A child's collection of bottle caps becomes the tombstones of a graveyard. A lowly rightfielder's inexplicable death turns him into a martyr to baseball. Strains of Chopin floating down the tenement airshaft are transformed into a mysterious anthem of loss. The stolid landscape of Chicago suddenly turns dreamlike and otherworldly in Stuart Dybek's classic story collection. A child's collection of bottle caps becomes the tombstones of a graveyard. A lowly rightfielder's inexplicable death turns him into a martyr to baseball. Strains of Chopin floating down the tenement airshaft are transformed into a mysterious anthem of loss. Combining homely detail and heartbreakingly familiar voices with grand leaps of imagination, The Coast of Chicago is a masterpiece from one of America's most highly regarded writers.

30 review for The Coast of Chicago

  1. 5 out of 5

    Matthew

    Those were the days when the Belsen Street Pollacks came down the stairwells with their pockets filled with broken glass, an old Jew shouting out of the window, little Skip Kowalcyk reaching up to grab his fill of undergarments from the laundry lines - old Trouthead Mulvaney was on the mound for the Cubs, the smell of simmering beef heart and boiled tar in the air, Mayor Daley tapping the ash from his cigar as he rode by in his grand Buick, like some kind of pristine ocean liner, outfitted in br Those were the days when the Belsen Street Pollacks came down the stairwells with their pockets filled with broken glass, an old Jew shouting out of the window, little Skip Kowalcyk reaching up to grab his fill of undergarments from the laundry lines - old Trouthead Mulvaney was on the mound for the Cubs, the smell of simmering beef heart and boiled tar in the air, Mayor Daley tapping the ash from his cigar as he rode by in his grand Buick, like some kind of pristine ocean liner, outfitted in brass.... BLEH BLEH BLEH IF YOU LIKE THAT KIND OF SHIT UP THERE THIS IS THE BOOK FOR YOU.

  2. 5 out of 5

    Vit Babenco

    The stories “Chopin in Winter” and “Blight” are magnificent and they reminded me of Jack Kerouac “There seemed to be some unspoken relationship between being nameless and being a loser. Watching the guys from Korea after their ball games as they hung around under the buzzing neon signs of their taverns, guzzling beers and flipping the softball, I got the strange feeling that they had actually chosen anonymity and the loserhood that went with it. It was something they looked for in one another, t The stories “Chopin in Winter” and “Blight” are magnificent and they reminded me of Jack Kerouac “There seemed to be some unspoken relationship between being nameless and being a loser. Watching the guys from Korea after their ball games as they hung around under the buzzing neon signs of their taverns, guzzling beers and flipping the softball, I got the strange feeling that they had actually chosen anonymity and the loserhood that went with it. It was something they looked for in one another, that held them together.” “Hot Ice” written more or less in Charles Bukowski’s mode is excellent as well. The rest is pretty good.

  3. 5 out of 5

    Andrea

    "The Coast of Chicago" is a lyrical short story collection about growing up in Chicago in the 50's and 60's--the poverty, the wild aimlessness of boyhood, those who escape the neighborhood and those who don't. Each longer piece is followed by a short-short, which was a fun pattern. Dybek adeptly captures the mood of the city, especially at night and in the winters. My favorite story in this collection is the simply gorgeous "Chopin in Winter," which is about a boy and his grandpa who fervently l "The Coast of Chicago" is a lyrical short story collection about growing up in Chicago in the 50's and 60's--the poverty, the wild aimlessness of boyhood, those who escape the neighborhood and those who don't. Each longer piece is followed by a short-short, which was a fun pattern. Dybek adeptly captures the mood of the city, especially at night and in the winters. My favorite story in this collection is the simply gorgeous "Chopin in Winter," which is about a boy and his grandpa who fervently listen to their upstairs neighbor playing the piano. "Nighthawks" is another gem in this collection; in it Dybek imagines the lives of the characters in Edward Hopper's similarly titled painting. The final story "Pet Milk" was also quite lovely, but I still prefer "We Didn't," which seems almost like a companion piece to it, in his most recent story collection, "I Sailed with Magellan."

  4. 4 out of 5

    Zinta

    I’ve experienced that rare pleasure of hearing Stuart Dybek read his work—in Kalamazoo, Michigan, where he is a sometime adjunct professor at Western Michigan University, and so sometimes, not at all often, has read to a large and hungry Kalamazoo audience, myself among them. That was poetry. Good stuff. Really good stuff. And so picking up this collection of stories about my favorite city, Chicago, and Dybek’s hometown, too, I knew I would be in for a street wise treat. Oh yeah. Fourteen storie I’ve experienced that rare pleasure of hearing Stuart Dybek read his work—in Kalamazoo, Michigan, where he is a sometime adjunct professor at Western Michigan University, and so sometimes, not at all often, has read to a large and hungry Kalamazoo audience, myself among them. That was poetry. Good stuff. Really good stuff. And so picking up this collection of stories about my favorite city, Chicago, and Dybek’s hometown, too, I knew I would be in for a street wise treat. Oh yeah. Fourteen stories, and if you know anything about Dybek at all, you will know he is surrounded by awards and an otherwise impressive publishing history, so no need to go there. He’s proven goods. I’ll offer simply my personal perspective and experience on reading this collection. And so, indeed, it resonated with me. Dybek, like me, comes from a richly ethnic background. In his case, he is a second-generation Polish-American, growing up in Chicago neighborhoods, southern side of that great city. Whereas I have a father who is a visual artist, so influencing me to be visual in my own writing, Dybek’s second art love is music—jazz, specifically—and so for him, that second art comes through in obvious and less obvious ways. Here, too. Quite a few of these stories intertwine music. Music becomes something of a character itself (“Chopin in Winter”), or else it serves as background, or it is fabric of the words, adding a jazzy rhythm to his sentence structure, a bop and a bounce to his choice of expression. Nice. The collection is an interesting mix of traditional sandwiched with flash fiction. The flash pieces reminded me of Dybek’s poetry. Poetry in prose, nearly. Because Dybek’s style (see note above on musical influence) is very lyrical. There’s something improvisational about his writing, yet carefully so. A great jazz artist doesn’t really improvise at all; he or she dips into that vastness of musical experience and freely lifts from it and into light. What is surprise to others is old blood to the maestro. “A kiss crosses the city. It rides a glass streetcar that showers blue, electric sparks along the ghost of a track—a track paved over in childhood—the line that she and her mother used to take downtown. “A kiss crosses the city, revolves through a lobby door into a rainy night, catches a cab along a boulevard of black glass, and, running red lights, dissolves behind the open fans of wiper blades. “Rain spirals colorlessly out of the dark, darkens all it touches and makes it gleam. “Her kiss crosses the city, enters a subway tunnel that descends at this deserted hour like a channel through an underground world. It’s timeless there, always night, as if the planet doesn’t turn below the street. At the mouth of the station stands a kid who’s gone AWOL and now has nowhere to go, a young conga drummer, a congacero, wearing a fatigue jacket and beating his drum. He has the pigeons up past their bedtime doing the mambo.” (page 105) These are stories that put you into the unprettified ethnic neighborhoods that were, are, Chicago. The smells are here, the tastes, the mix of languages, the music, the blend of humanity. Here the city kids and the first generation immigrants, the junkies and winos and ex-cons and their corrupt cops. Here, too, are stories about nothing, just the sense of being there, and so, stories about everything you need to know to share the experience. Dybek is a master of language, whatever medium he chooses—poetry or prose. He blends his arts, as all art should be a blend, all from the same fountainhead. He is visual artist, too, with one paint stroke: “The blue, absorbing shadow would deepen to azure, and a fiery orange sun would dip behind the glittering buildings. The crowded beach would gradually empty, and a pitted moon would hover over sand scalloped with a million footprints. It would be time to go.” (page 45) Just don’t go before acquainting yourself fully with the work of Stuart Dybek, and this collection is an excellent starting point.

  5. 5 out of 5

    Paul Sebik

    Most of these stories have a narrator looking back to the time of the story from an undisclosed or unimportant future vantage point. The way the character looks back indicates the story is vital memory(to the character's existence even). Dybek's vivid flashes of past come in layer upon layer, rendering the story into not just memory, but perhaps the most important time of these characters' lives. The sense of nostalgia is thick and alive--it's hypnotic at times, but slows the read a bit, too. Th Most of these stories have a narrator looking back to the time of the story from an undisclosed or unimportant future vantage point. The way the character looks back indicates the story is vital memory(to the character's existence even). Dybek's vivid flashes of past come in layer upon layer, rendering the story into not just memory, but perhaps the most important time of these characters' lives. The sense of nostalgia is thick and alive--it's hypnotic at times, but slows the read a bit, too. The short shorts are a pleasure. So why 4 stars? Cleary in the entire book, Dybek is concerned with the world of dreams, or perhaps more particulary the limbo *between* waking reality and dreamscape. It kind of goes along with the characters looking back, thus they're caught between whatever their present and their vivid past. The long story "Nighthawks" in the middle of the book is fascinated with this limbo. The language Dybek uses when in dream or that limbo is incredible and poetic, and I loved that part of it. But the musing exploration of that place just wasn't for me. I realize it's just a personal preference on my part (not my kind of writing), but frankly: I was bored at times with it. Other stories besides "Nighthawks" were much more compelling reads because they had the musing in it but weren't overwhelmed by it. I don't think I'd ever read "Bijou" again either. Human exploration through an audience's reaction(s) to a graphic documentary--for me: a "so what?" read.

  6. 5 out of 5

    Robert Palmer

    I read this short story collection when it was chosen for the " one book one Chicago " in 2004. I think the reason the story's resonated so much for me was that I know the neighborhoods,the streets and the people,which it so much easer reading than Dubliners by James Joyce. The book really had me at the section titled "Nighthawks" a young man killing time at the art institute would always end his day viewing Edward Hoppers painting named Nighthawks.Dybek than brings the paint to life . The couple I read this short story collection when it was chosen for the " one book one Chicago " in 2004. I think the reason the story's resonated so much for me was that I know the neighborhoods,the streets and the people,which it so much easer reading than Dubliners by James Joyce. The book really had me at the section titled "Nighthawks" a young man killing time at the art institute would always end his day viewing Edward Hoppers painting named Nighthawks.Dybek than brings the paint to life . The couple at the end of the counter who could just as easily pass for strangers killing time,they have a back story. Ray the man behind the counter who is much older then he looks and nobody cares what he dose during the day. The guy whith his back to the window nursing his cup of coffee , maybe an out of work hit man. And finally,what about the empty water glass? It to has a story. I know that if the Nighthawks section was all that I had read,it would have been time well spent. However I would not have liked to missed all of the others.

  7. 5 out of 5

    Andrew

    Blight is one of the best stories I've read in a long time, and in some ways its quality dampens the rest of the book for me. As a teacher of mine once said, "Stu really packs it in." A lot of the stories in this collection feel like novels. By the end so much has been seen and experienced that there's an ache for, but a satisfaction in knowing that it Dybek did it right.

  8. 5 out of 5

    Ionut

    This is a great book. I lived in Chicago for a number of years and I am a catholic born in Eastern Europe so I can definitely relate to parts of what Dybek describes in this book. Stuart Dybek grew up in the South Side of Chicago. At the time, his neighborhood was an ethnic neighborhood full of poles, ukranians, czechs, etc. Most of the characters in the book still have customs coming from the old country, inherited prejudices, church going rituals, love for music, etc. Most of the stories have a This is a great book. I lived in Chicago for a number of years and I am a catholic born in Eastern Europe so I can definitely relate to parts of what Dybek describes in this book. Stuart Dybek grew up in the South Side of Chicago. At the time, his neighborhood was an ethnic neighborhood full of poles, ukranians, czechs, etc. Most of the characters in the book still have customs coming from the old country, inherited prejudices, church going rituals, love for music, etc. Most of the stories have a life of their own yet some of the smaller ones are introduced just to create themes or suggest feelings that will trigger in other stories. For example baseball is a recurring theme in this book, from the neighborhood teams, to watching games, to the White Sox winning the '59 AL pennant. It is a great experience to live in a town that wins a pennant and one of the short stories describes how the Go Go Sox of '59 won the AL pennant on Gerry Staley's sinker and Aparicio and Big Klu's 6-3 double play. The whole town was affected by the air-raid sirens that were sounded to celebrate but so were the characters in one of the short stories. The same neighborhoods have later changed. One of the characters returns after a while and finds the same bars with the same names only that his neighborhood is Mexican now with many of the store names in Spanish and even the church bells don't seem to agree on the right time. There is no experience that compares to making the journey from the numbered streets of the South Side to the North Side of Chicago. This journey is described multiple times in the book (driving on Lake Shore Drive, riding the El train, switching buses). In the last short story in the book, the author describes such a journey made by two lovers riding the El train. The experience is surreal but one understands that living in Chicago and riding the El, you only need to glance outside the window to get a sense of where you are. The experience transcends time, "it was as if I were standing on that platform, with my schoolbooks and a smoke, on one of those endlessly accumulated afternoons after school when I stood almost outside of time simply waiting for a train, and I thought how much I’d have loved seeing someone like us streaming by". Stuart Dybek also eventually made this journey in his career, he was born in the South Side of Chicago and is now the distinguished writer in residence at Northwestern University.

  9. 5 out of 5

    Jessica

    I really enjoyed this collection of short stories even though I'm not sure that I understand a few of the endings since Dybek writes poetically. My favorite is Lights because I had totally forgotten about this childhood activity..."Lights! Your lights! Hey, lights!" Makes me smile every time I think about it. I also like the lines from Strays..."I never give any of them names. We don't know an animal's name. A name's what we use instead of smelling." Have no fear...I'll continue to name my pets I really enjoyed this collection of short stories even though I'm not sure that I understand a few of the endings since Dybek writes poetically. My favorite is Lights because I had totally forgotten about this childhood activity..."Lights! Your lights! Hey, lights!" Makes me smile every time I think about it. I also like the lines from Strays..."I never give any of them names. We don't know an animal's name. A name's what we use instead of smelling." Have no fear...I'll continue to name my pets lest I mortify my family. I think Dybek really captures the essence of the near South side of Chicago. The Coast of Chicago reminded me of Sandra Cisneros' The House of Mango Street...another author/poet who writes about her hometown of Chicago.

  10. 4 out of 5

    Rachel

    If you ever wanted to take a time capsule and go back in time to the Chicago South Side during the 60's and 70's, than this book will take you there. Dybek beautifully describes the lonliness and sadness of the back alleys of a working class neighborhood. I lived in the South Side, definitely during a different time, but he captured a feeling that I had while living there. You see fragments from that era on the street corners, and mixed in with the new culture that's taken over the South Side. I If you ever wanted to take a time capsule and go back in time to the Chicago South Side during the 60's and 70's, than this book will take you there. Dybek beautifully describes the lonliness and sadness of the back alleys of a working class neighborhood. I lived in the South Side, definitely during a different time, but he captured a feeling that I had while living there. You see fragments from that era on the street corners, and mixed in with the new culture that's taken over the South Side. I love this book. When I read it, I could not believe anyone could capture Chicago like he had. This is one of my favorites.

  11. 4 out of 5

    Jason Pettus

    [Earlier this year, I had the honor of being asked to join the staff of the Chicago Literary Hall of Fame, specifically to help choose the honoree each year of the organization's Fuller Award for Lifetime Achievement. 2018's recipient was Stuart Dybek, and I was asked to write a critical overview of his work for the accompanying program. I'm reprinting it in full below.] It’s been a fascinating thing this month to read through the entire prose oeuvre of Stuart Dybek in chronological order for the [Earlier this year, I had the honor of being asked to join the staff of the Chicago Literary Hall of Fame, specifically to help choose the honoree each year of the organization's Fuller Award for Lifetime Achievement. 2018's recipient was Stuart Dybek, and I was asked to write a critical overview of his work for the accompanying program. I'm reprinting it in full below.] It’s been a fascinating thing this month to read through the entire prose oeuvre of Stuart Dybek in chronological order for the first time, as we here on the staff of the Chicago Literary Hall of Fame have been making plans for tonight’s ceremony, and have been gathering in the effusive praise from his friends and colleagues you’re reading in this program. Like many, I had read his most famous book, 1990’s The Coast of Chicago, in my twenties soon after it had come out; like many, it was at the urging of a woman I was trying to make into my latest romantic partner, a slam poet and former student of his who told me that "everything I needed to know about her" could be gleaned from the book; and like many, once I did read the book, Dybek’s unforgettable prose took on a life of its own with me, apart from the six bittersweet weeks said woman and I ended up together. (And strangely, like Dybek’s story “Córdoba,” said woman just happened to live at the corner of Buena Avenue and Marine Drive, which made me feel like one of the sweet but hapless male heroes of his pieces when coming across this fact last week.) But still, I had never explored the rest of his fictional work before this month, so I decided to start with his first, 1980’s Childhood and Other Neighborhoods. Even 38 years later, it’s easy to see with this book why Dybek started gaining a feverish cult following from his very start, because the writing on display is startlingly unique; the magical realism of Gabriel García Márquez, the gritty urbanism of Nelson Algren, the sweet nostalgia of the Saturday Evening Post, but with the naughty subversion of the Countercultural era. (Also, what an astounding historical record of a Chicago that no longer exists, as best typified by the very first story of the book, "The Palatski Man," in which alley-going knife sharpeners on horse-drawn carriages still live in a wild rural wonderland, right in the middle of the city.) Next came The Coast of Chicago, deservedly now known as a modern classic, one of those magical moments in literary history when everything came together perfectly. An expansion of Dybek’s look back at his childhood as a Polish-American in the Little Village neighborhood (in a post-war time when the area was undergoing a transition into a mostly Mexican neighborhood), it’s also a thoroughly contemporary collection of pieces about masculinity, sexuality, and experience-hungry youth, containing many of the most indelible and heartbreaking stories of his career, such as the aching "Chopin in Winter" where we watch the twin fates of a dying immigrant grandfather and an illegitimately pregnant teenage neighbor. (Also, for those keeping score, this is the book that contains the notorious "Pet Milk," mentioned over and over by his admirers in this program.) A decade later saw Dybek’s so-far only novel, 2003’s I Sailed with Magellan, although this technically comes with an asterisk for being a "novel in stories," the literary length that he’s destined to be mostly remembered for. A non-linear look at the life of the sometimes infuriating, always engaging Perry Katzek, this is Dybek doing a deep dive into his checkered youth within a rough-and-tumble, pre-gentrification Chicago -- a world of mobsters and viaducts, dead disabled boys turned into Catholic martyrs, broke but striving social workers living in rundown northside SROs, and as always the women beside them who propelled them along, messy mistakes and all. To me, it was my favorite of all his books, and one I know I’ll be coming back to again and again for the rest of my life. And finally, a decade after that, Dybek gave the world the remarkable gift of 59 new stories in a single year, with the twinned 2014 publications of Ecstatic Cahoots and Paper Lantern. A reflection of Dybek’s years of honing his craft in the academic world, as both a beloved professor and working artist, these pieces are mostly tiny little diamonds from a now master of his craft, fiction that often approaches flash-fiction but that packs all the wallop of stories ten times the size. Split between general stories (Cahoots) and specific love stories (Lantern), these books see Dybek at the absolute top of his game, a crowning achievement to a busy and award-packed career that is about to celebrate its half-century anniversary. With all the wonderful anecdotes in this program from long-time friends who are intimately acquainted with his work, I’m proud to be one of the few to say that it’s perfectly all right if you’re not familiar yet with all of Stuart Dybek’s books. It is in fact a perfect time to become so, with all of his titles still in print and with a brand-new greatest-hits collection that was just recently published by Jonathan Cape/Vintage. Still as relevant as ever, still as powerful as ever, he is truly one of America’s greatest living authors, and a bright star in the annals of Chicago’s literary history.

  12. 4 out of 5

    Simon A.

    I finally read this one. I know a lot of Chicago writers point to this as the definitive collection of stories about Chicago and the vibrant characters that inhabit it. I liked it. I really did, but i didn't love it like I wanted to. The thing that kept me from truly loving it was that while Dybek is a very lyrical, poetic writer, his stories sometimes lack focus and momentum. Many of his stories are ABOUT characters and ABOUT places and ABOUT tragedies without actually diving full-in and allowi I finally read this one. I know a lot of Chicago writers point to this as the definitive collection of stories about Chicago and the vibrant characters that inhabit it. I liked it. I really did, but i didn't love it like I wanted to. The thing that kept me from truly loving it was that while Dybek is a very lyrical, poetic writer, his stories sometimes lack focus and momentum. Many of his stories are ABOUT characters and ABOUT places and ABOUT tragedies without actually diving full-in and allowing the drama or action unfold in the moment. There's a lot more description than there is dialog, and I always like stories with good dialog. Some of the stories are fantastic, though. I wish all of the stories would have been more like "Blight." No question, Dybek is a terrific writer, but I get the feeling that he may make a better poet than writer.

  13. 4 out of 5

    Adam Dalva

    A good collection - especially for Chicagoans. It's extremely front loaded, with the first two long stories really standing out (in the 4.3-4.7 range). All the short vignettes are great, and the last piece is good, but the book is dragged down, I think, by Nighthawks, a long story suite that feels a bit forced around the theme of the Nighthawks diner. Dybek is also a poet, and the book is beautiful on the line-level, but it works best when he takes on tangible reality, especially from the perspe A good collection - especially for Chicagoans. It's extremely front loaded, with the first two long stories really standing out (in the 4.3-4.7 range). All the short vignettes are great, and the last piece is good, but the book is dragged down, I think, by Nighthawks, a long story suite that feels a bit forced around the theme of the Nighthawks diner. Dybek is also a poet, and the book is beautiful on the line-level, but it works best when he takes on tangible reality, especially from the perspective of a child, in the close 3rd. Nitehawks is a more roving voice, as is Hot Ice, and there, despite the language being great, I lost my connection with linearity and with any sort of rooting interest. Give me simplicity with this style. It is also less of a linked collection than the cover would claim. Definitely worth reading for the great ones.

  14. 4 out of 5

    Michael Joseph

    What Algren did to a generation of Chicagoans Dybek did to me, years late, barely lauded, like every truly great thing about Chicago. Underground by default by defiant and brilliant, brash but not at their mother's table. My mother's table is long gone but I was there in this book. Listening to Chopin although I've never really heard Chopin. On drugs with Manny although I've never done those. In the ice with that woman. On that train in Pet Milk. I'm beaming and this collection is the force in t What Algren did to a generation of Chicagoans Dybek did to me, years late, barely lauded, like every truly great thing about Chicago. Underground by default by defiant and brilliant, brash but not at their mother's table. My mother's table is long gone but I was there in this book. Listening to Chopin although I've never really heard Chopin. On drugs with Manny although I've never done those. In the ice with that woman. On that train in Pet Milk. I'm beaming and this collection is the force in those atoms.

  15. 5 out of 5

    Melody

    Smoky, atmospheric short and short-short stories. Pet Milk is a standout, while some of the short-shorts left me cold. Dybek has a singular voice, that isn't exactly haunting but is... well, muscular. Overwhelmingly male but not in a swaggering way.

  16. 4 out of 5

    Peter

    Strong, soulful, often enchanting collection of stories from Chicago's gritty Southwest Side.

  17. 4 out of 5

    Nick

    Quite simply, the prettiest writing on a sentence by sentence level. The word choice is sublime.

  18. 4 out of 5

    Dana Jerman

    A fantastic collection. If you've been to Chicago, you know there's something for everyone there. Same here.

  19. 4 out of 5

    Ivan Labayne

    So I won’t keep myself from doing this, even only for my stubbornness against the Formalist school, trumpeting organic unity, problematizing it even prior to the potential readings: for what I have went through in the earliest of February 25, 2012 include almost the first half of Stuart Dybek’s The Coast of Chicago and consummating the threshold pronouncing that I am through Saramago’s Blindness. For Dybek, which I happened to own only two days ago, and who is being compared to Hemingway and Joy So I won’t keep myself from doing this, even only for my stubbornness against the Formalist school, trumpeting organic unity, problematizing it even prior to the potential readings: for what I have went through in the earliest of February 25, 2012 include almost the first half of Stuart Dybek’s The Coast of Chicago and consummating the threshold pronouncing that I am ¾ through Saramago’s Blindness. For Dybek, which I happened to own only two days ago, and who is being compared to Hemingway and Joyce, masters of fiction I am fond of partly because of the moods in their stories, I can argue for an initial merit in this: making me read him immediately after purchase, in contrast to the fate of Joyce Carol Oates’ We Were the Mulvaneys or Denis Johnson’s Tree of Smoke. His stories are set in Chicago, a foreign place, unlike the very familiar Session Road or Novaliches, and they will not allow geographical distance or familiarity to get in the way of tugging the readers closer to the narratives. In the first six stories I have read from this anthology, at least so far from them, and I am respecting chronology, there is no alienation; there is connection which I gauge based on my perceptions, reactions, and engaged interrogations of the stories. In the short, opening story “Farwell,” I see a usual plot that I think will never grow old and whose evocations of inspiration or charm will highly depend on the scripter: departures and fleeting relationships. Dybek begins the first and last paragraphs with the same word, “Tonight’” and I think this is a technique used to mark the narrator’s passing through different points of time at the moment of enunciation, showing how something past can still bring beauty when viewed from far ahead. The narrator departs with a teacher he likes, and we saw how the two of them once shared a fleeting but beautiful bond. But what I find cute here is the manner of downplaying the separation, without much appeal to emotion, with neatness, without a sense of making a big fuss out of it: “When the university did not renew his contract, he moved away suddenly” (5). This comes before the author hinted at the proximity of where the professors used to live, “Farwell,” and saying goodbye, as if it finally arrived at the heart of its point, as if to express it could be done nonchalantly because it frequently happens anyway, as if a fact of life, inevitable. In “Chopin in Winter,” one of the longer stories, the music element is perhaps unsurprisingly key in the elocution of the message. Michael, the narrator, shared a building and subtle connections with Marcy, the daughter of their landlady who went to stay with her mother after being impregnated by a Black man. With subplots on racism in America and the afflictions of World War II on the family of soldiers left behind , the story shows how public relations, even familial, are limited by perhaps a lack of trust and understanding, seemingly basic verbs and nouns whose weight the words themselves cannot bear when applied in real life. And more importantly, how do we negotiate whom we trust and to what extent and who we understand and how are always influenced by the circumstances circumscribing us. The bias against black people of both Michael’s mother and Mrs. Kubiac, Marcy’s mother is surely triggered by an external factor and not something that just came out. With this, it can only be inferred that Mrs. Kubiac censured her daughter with her relationship with a black guy and forced her to stay with her in the apartment. Downcast and to a certain extent, incapacitated, Marcy had to find outlet for her emotions. So we have the piano. Michael became a passive witness of Marcy’s decision to forge ahead, leave her mother and live with her Black partner. By listening to the music she played, Michael unknowingly had an access to her expression of feelings she would not rather put into words in public, for her mother, for instance, either because of the notion that it would go purposeless anyway or a plot of escape and rebellion is already brewing and that is where much of the focus is being put on. And again, that connection she shared with Michael, beginning when they had a little talk together and when she pasted her smile on his memory. That and no other chat followed, only her piano and his growing sensitivity to its sound. And how, when she left physically, Michael seemed to have continued sensing her presence in the apartment, by virtue of the silence she had left behind, taking the place of the music she used to play. In the one-page “Lights,” Dybek was perhaps teasing, challenging his readers. But what I think he is telling is the surprisingly optimistic, or perhaps, consoling message: Hey, we are not alone. Just as much as we can expect people to assure our safety in the dark (i.e. in the story, as we drive), we can expect that someone else stays just nearby, doing exactly what we are doing. I was inclined to think that there was some danger in messages like that – messages that are too reassuring, if not downright positive, or happy, they can make us too complacent. But in times of economic crises, subtle interracial feuds and subtler deception in the media and politics, I’d prefer to concede that perhaps even momentary assurances can be welcomed, even, as if symbolically, only a page in a series of stories. In “Death of the Right Fielder,” Dybek seems to be downplaying death, getting rid of the drama and the philosophy and puts premium on the game, in this case, baseball. A right fielder dies, instantaneously, inexplicably, but most of all, unceremoniously. Shortly after trying to figure out the cause of his death, the narrator went on ruminating about the possibilities in baseball. How some are lucky to be great in the sport even when they are above 40 while others die soon (and find themselves buried right there in the field) when they are just 17 and perhaps proven unavailing in the face of a potentially illustrious baseball career. There is some dulcet I find in there: how Dybek seems effortless in transposing the traditional value enjoyed by one idea or event (death) onto another (baseball) – one which we usually think of as prosaic. In “Bottle Caps,” he would just pull off some O. Henry, letting go of a dagger in the end, but not after seemingly going about a laborious plot. In this story, he introduced to me really weird brothers: one is a bottle cap collector, which is relatively still normal and acceptable; and the other, an insect grave caretaker. These are stories you would perhaps look for after form. In the pretentious ordinariness of the narrative, there would pop out details like that. Which in second thought now, I think works exactly the opposite of O. Henry’s technique. While O. Henry is the delightfully read master of the anticlimactic; Dybek would conjure a climax when everybody least expects it: When the older one caught his younger brother getting some of his bottle caps and even threatened him, the older guy was led to the backyard and there “he could see (his) bottle caps half buried…” Perhaps pressed for further clarification, the younger kid uttered: “ I’ve been using them as tombstones, in my insect graveyard” (41). This is making me delve deeper, truthfully, and read further with gusto and mellowed anticipation of the rest of the stories. So for Dybek tonight, I ended with “Blight,” I think one of the more well-known among the stories, and another one from the class of longer narratives. In thirty pages, I witnessed the erratic, but in a cute way, and hence engaging fellowship, no, friendship, of four boys: Deejo, Pepper, Ziggy and David, the narrator. There were a lot of fun moments: Pepper being detested by a girl from the neighborhood he is smitten with, but most notably and laughably when Deejo wrote something Pepper asked him to be given to Linda, the girl. Deejo had an awful mistake. Weak in spelling, he wrote this: “I dream of my arms/around your waste.” While even if this gets spelled correctly the message is somewhat indefinitely attractive, the heavier toll was perhaps brought by the misspelling. Deejo is also somewhat a blighted writer and he used to conceive the first sentence of his would-be novel which his friends liked when he read it aloud to them. It goes: The dawn rises like sick old men playing on the rooftops in their underwear. (50)” While this amused his friends, everything that succeeded it suggested only a downfall. Most charmingly laughable is that long, long second sentence about a fighting spider and caterpillar which is obviously hardly relevant to the first sentence. Worse, the two suddenly realize the futility of their quarrel and ended up being swopped down by a sparrow. There are several other fun moments and I believe they help in effecting in David the eventual realization he would have in the story, consummating a transition in terms of the way he perceives his home town – from Blight to Blithe. Despite the ruggedness, the seeming lack of class, of colorful effervescence, this is the place where he had the fondest of memories with his closest pals and those are some things. Travelling through seasons, growing up and coming to terms with new, positive things. In times when we often conclude “It’s just a matter of perspective,” the good memories he shared withn his buddies have definitely shaped David’s perspective into something that leans towards the positive. Truth to say, lately, I have been least inclined and perhaps least interested in short stories of all forms of literature, with the novel finally gaining ground and ahead with quite some steps. I enjoyed the short stories we read during my undergraduate studies, and in fact, the book I would always cite as my most appreciated, Dubliners, is a collection of short stories. And Dead Stars too, and the Death of Ivan Ilyich (although classified as a novella) and the Last Judgment, and Atwood’s Happy Endings. But with novels suddenly springing from left and right and up and down with my new found fascination with contemporary authors (Dennis Johnson, Murakami, Bret Easton Ellis and Andre Dubus III) and rekindled pining for older ones (Joyce Carol Oates ), the short fiction type suddenly lagged behind. Plays – I have Shakespeare and Miller and Beckett, and the Greek tragedies and the nonverbal element and the wily engage of dialogues to turn to. Creative nonfiction – as they well abound today in the columnists of Kule (Agrava, Precioso) and then some Jessica Zafra and Sedaris and as with their resensitization of the everyday and their revelation of the seemingly ordinary, are also constantly among my preferences. Not to say that this is one of the genres where I more dominantly tarry as a writer. And of course, poetry, which I think responds best to the challenge of literature, condensing and displacing here and there, in a matter of lines, stanzas. But with recent rereadings of Dubliners and now, Dybek getting into the picture, the short story genre is resurrecting. Shorter and more momentary than the novel, more flexible than poetry, and still giving voices to people and their happenstances, short fiction, as I can see, is staying to tempt me to flip the page. Dybek is indeed a decisive addition to make this push and the first six stories of his more prominent anthology, with their captivation of humor and hope, and trickery and failure, in sum, everything human, are all indicating of sustaining this interest to the genre I was almost forgetting until now. https://ivanlabayne.wordpress.com/cat...

  20. 4 out of 5

    Lisa

    Dybek's collection of stories is engaging. Music plays a role in many of them. Chopin played int he houses of the neighbors in "Chopin in Winter." In that story Mrs. Kubiac's daughter, Marcy, who studied music in college, came home pregnant and she remembered the narrator as a little boy crying alone in his bedroom at night and said she could hear what his mother did not. Marcy played the piano at night. The story was also about the narrator living with "Dzia-Dzia," his grandfather, whose rememb Dybek's collection of stories is engaging. Music plays a role in many of them. Chopin played int he houses of the neighbors in "Chopin in Winter." In that story Mrs. Kubiac's daughter, Marcy, who studied music in college, came home pregnant and she remembered the narrator as a little boy crying alone in his bedroom at night and said she could hear what his mother did not. Marcy played the piano at night. The story was also about the narrator living with "Dzia-Dzia," his grandfather, whose remembers soaking his feet overnight. "Did-Dzia's feet had been frozen when as a young man he walked most fate way from Krakow to Gdansk in the dead of winter escaping service int he Prussia army. And later he had frozen them again mining for gold in Alaska. Most of what I knew of Dzia-Dzia's pas thad mainly to do with the history of his feet." His health was bad, his relieves said he was "failing." The young narrator is failing, as well, at school: "....almost everything except arithmetic, and that only because it used numbers instead f letters. mainly, I was failing penmanship. The nuns complained that my writing was totally illegible, that I spelled like a DP...." The grandfather makes prejudicial comments that his daughter tries hard to correct. But she has letters her dead husband wrote before he died in the war that show he was afraid of the changes he saw in himself, the hate he developed for the enemy's people, the lack of humanity in him. And then he died. mostly ass the characters want to forget the war. The young narrator is drawn to Dzia-Dzia and lingers at his penmanship and selling homework as his grandfather obsesses over the nightly Chopin playing: "'She's young but already knows Chopin's secret-- a waltz can tell me more about the should than a hymn.'" Over time Dizia-Dzia asked the boy to tell him what she was playing, not to test him as before but because he was unable to identify them on his own. The boy begin retreating to his own back bedroom where he could enjoy Marcy's music alone but felt guilty for not telling his grandfather how well he could hear the music there. The mother's concerns about prejudicial comments - she being the family member always correcting her father and siblings - don't ring sincere towards the end once it becomes known who the baby's father is. Another good story in here is Blight. "During those years between Korea and Vietnam, when rock and roll was being perfected, our neighborhood was proclaimed an Official Blight Area. Richard Daley was mayor then. It seemed as if he had always been, and would always be, the mayor." The Mayor is a mythical character here, but PepperRosado and Ziggy Zilinsky are more real though not always in reality, particularly Ziggy who had always had visions and dreams that were odd but they seemed more unusual after Pepper accidentally "beaned" him in the head.Ziggy is also a sleepwalker (there is one other story in here with a sleepwalker; in the stories sleepwalkers are found walking down major thoroughfares or stepping into bars where the bartender plays with them by serving them scalding hot coffee that shocks them awake). It seemed blight had to be identified so that improvemennts could e made to the city. "It was the route we usually walked to the viaduct, but since blight had been declared were were trying to see our surroundings from a new perspective, to determine if anything had been changed...Blight sounded serious, biblical in a way...." Still the boys didn't see blight: "The could send in the building inspectors and social workers, the mayor could rive through in his back limo, but they'd never know about the music of the viaducts, or churches where saints winked and nodded, or how right next door to me our guitar player, Joe "Deejo" DeCampo, had finally found his title, and inspired by it had begun he Great American Novel, Blight..." There was music, Deejo's writing, the girl the narrator is interest in on the North side, which is also the direction o f the beach he goes to with his buddies on summer days, "escaping" from the light. The Stories are layered with details of growing up in a multi-cultured urban neighborhood when parents didn't hover over every activity kids were involved in. "Hot Ice" is another good story in the book and finds the boys wandering frequently near the jail where their friends is held, yelling obscenities to inmates until police are sent to chase them down.

  21. 5 out of 5

    Andrea

    Why did no one tell me about Stuart Dybek before? These stories were extraordinary. Just as a writer I found the quality of his prose alone making my little heart beat faster, these stories are breathtaking. But these are also stories of a working class kid growing up in a fucked up but well-loved Catholic, half Polish half Mexican neighbourhood. A view and a voice that is all too rare, and perhaps explains why no one has told me about Stuart Dybek before. It involves memories, beauty, urban myt Why did no one tell me about Stuart Dybek before? These stories were extraordinary. Just as a writer I found the quality of his prose alone making my little heart beat faster, these stories are breathtaking. But these are also stories of a working class kid growing up in a fucked up but well-loved Catholic, half Polish half Mexican neighbourhood. A view and a voice that is all too rare, and perhaps explains why no one has told me about Stuart Dybek before. It involves memories, beauty, urban myths, cross-race romance that brings shame and wonder, music, weed, wandering, the ordinary overlaid with magic. Mrs. Kubiac's building seemed riddled with its secret passageways. And, when the music finally disappeared, its channels remained, conveying silence. Not an ordinary silence of absence and emptiness, but a pure silence beyond daydream and memory, as intense as the music it replaced, which, like music, had the power to change whoever listened. It hushed the close-quartered racket of the old building. Then of course, there is the short story 'Blight' that so embodies the lived experience of urban renewal -- everything I care most about, have fought over. During those years between Korea and Vietnam, when rock and roll was being perfected, our neighborhood was proclaimed an Official Blight Area. This is the relationship with power poor people know far too well: Still, in a way, I could see it from Ziggy's point of view. Mayor Daley was everywhere. The city was tearing down buildings for urban renewal, tearing up streets for a new expressway, and everywhere one looked there were signs in front of the rubble reading: SORRY FOR THE INCONVENIENCE ANOTHER IMPROVEMENT FOR A GREATER CHICAGO RICHARD J. DALEY, MAYOR A series of paragraphs I have gathered that seek to understand what this declaration of blight means, the point of view the young men who live there -- who are themselves more than likely seen as blight by the men in suits: It was the route we usually walked to the viaduct, but since blight had been declared we were trying to see our surrounding from a new perspective, to determine if anything had been changed, or at least appeared different. Blight sounded serious, biblical in a way, like something locusts might be responsible for. Nor did anyone need to explain that Official Blight was the language of revenue, forms in quintuplicate, grants, and federal aid channeled through the Machine and processed with the help of grafters, skimmer, wheeler-dealers, and army of aldermen, precinct captains, patronage workers, their relatives and friends. No one said it, but instinctively we knew we'd never see a nickel. Blight, in fact, could be considered a kind of official recognition, a grudging admission that among blocks of factories, railroad tracks, truck docks, industrial dumps, scrapyards, expressways, and the drainage canal, people had managed to wedge in their everyday lives. What its last days were like, and the vibrance that existed there before the destruction: It was an old neighborhood that Mayor Daley, despite his campaign promises, was preparing to demolish to make way for a new university. But life went on that summer as it always had -- daily newspapers printed in strange alphabets; nuts, cheeses, dried cod sold in the streets; the scent of crushed lemon from the bakery that made lemon ice; Greek music skirling from the restaurant downstairs. It is not all easy to sympathise with, honest in the lines of race that divided neighbourhoods and their changing contours: Douglas Park was a black park now, the lagoon curdled in milky green scum as if it had soured, and Kapusta didn't doubt that were he to go there they'd find his body floating in the lily pads too. And always a sense that the past hardly exists: It was hard to believe there ever were streetcars. the city back then, the city of their fathers, which was as far back as a family memory extended, even the city of their childhoods, seemed as remote to Eddie and Manny as the capital of some foreign country What past there is is constantly under threat, actively being destroyed through the destruction of the city: The past collapsed about them--decayed, bulldozed, obliterated. They walked past block-length gutted factories, past walls of peeling, multicolored doors hammered up around flooded excavation pits, hung out in half-boarded storefronts of groceries that had shut down when they were kids, dusty cans still stacked on the shelves. Broken glass collected everywhere, mounding like sand in the little, sunken front yards and gutters. Even the church's stained-glass windows were patched with plywood. This feeling -- I know this feeling. Things were gone they couldn't remember but missed; and things were gone they weren't sure ever were there... At times, walking past the gaps, they felt as if they were no longer quite there themselves, half-lost despite familiar street signs, shadows of themselves superimposed on the present, except there was no present--everything either rubbled past or promised future--and they were walking as if floating, getting nowhere as if they'd smoked too much grass. I know I'm just quoting the things that touch upon all I obsess over in thinking about cities have been made, could be remade. It's almost like Marshall Berman writing crystalline stories of coming-of-age perfection to encapsulate his pain of losing the Bronx. There is so much beauty and life here beyond that, and this last line is splendid: He had special windows all over the city. It was how he held the city together in his mind.

  22. 5 out of 5

    Dan

    A two and a half star review would have been appropriate for this book, I decided to round up instead of rounding down. If you remember reading and enjoying short stories in high school or college, this might be the book for you. Just be forewarned that unless you are really interested in what life was like in the Little Village and Pilsen neighborhoods of Chicago in the 50's and 60's you are going to finding reading this book to be extremely tedious as about 75% of the book's short stories are A two and a half star review would have been appropriate for this book, I decided to round up instead of rounding down. If you remember reading and enjoying short stories in high school or college, this might be the book for you. Just be forewarned that unless you are really interested in what life was like in the Little Village and Pilsen neighborhoods of Chicago in the 50's and 60's you are going to finding reading this book to be extremely tedious as about 75% of the book's short stories are set in that location during those times.

  23. 5 out of 5

    David

    This is a great read. The language was a standout for me - simple, fluid and often poetic. Having never visited Chicago (Southside or otherwise), I had no connection to the place. Over the course of these stories, I picked up a strong sense of time, place, identity and loss. I think all the stories are well worth reading but my personal favourites were Pet Milk, Chopin in Winter, Farwell, Blight and Hot Ice. If you enjoy good writing and well-told stories, the Coast of Chicago is a place for man This is a great read. The language was a standout for me - simple, fluid and often poetic. Having never visited Chicago (Southside or otherwise), I had no connection to the place. Over the course of these stories, I picked up a strong sense of time, place, identity and loss. I think all the stories are well worth reading but my personal favourites were Pet Milk, Chopin in Winter, Farwell, Blight and Hot Ice. If you enjoy good writing and well-told stories, the Coast of Chicago is a place for many return visits.

  24. 5 out of 5

    CëRïSë

    A student, who was reading this in her English class this semester, recommended this book to me after we discussed Edward Hopper's Nighthawks in class. As it happened, she had totally misinterpreted the story (inspired by the painting) as it occurs in the book, but I still enjoyed this evocative, poetic collection of short (some short-short) stories about a city where I've enjoyed spending time. Reading Challenge Tags: #11, written from multiple people's perspectives; #12, passes the Bechdel test A student, who was reading this in her English class this semester, recommended this book to me after we discussed Edward Hopper's Nighthawks in class. As it happened, she had totally misinterpreted the story (inspired by the painting) as it occurs in the book, but I still enjoyed this evocative, poetic collection of short (some short-short) stories about a city where I've enjoyed spending time. Reading Challenge Tags: #11, written from multiple people's perspectives; #12, passes the Bechdel test; #21, set on, near, or involving a body of water; #32, local college English class

  25. 4 out of 5

    Mark Greenbaum

    There's a soulfulness to the writing, as though every story were running through the head of a mournful person lying in bed, under the covers in the dark, running through his vivid memories and his regrets, and this gives much of Dybek's writing a warmth. And his prose and his description are light Faulknerian, also Carver-like in their loneliness and the depth he plumbs with such simple language. Still, there aren't a lot of standouts here and the themes seem to repeat over and over. 3.5/5

  26. 5 out of 5

    Colin Brightwell

    Boring, trite, pretentious. Dybek has been published in a lot of places. That's probably because he's a "safe" writer who doesn't really take risks. I didn't feel anything from him. I felt bored to tears and skimmed through most of his longer stories here because there are things on my shelf to read that WILL make me feel something. Feel like this guy has his head so far up his that he thinks his crap pretentious prose don't stink like a truck-stop bathroom.

  27. 5 out of 5

    Dave Barie

    There’s a great many books that try to capture the essence of Chicago as it was in the memories of those who lived through its evolution. The torch must have been invisibly passed from Algren to Dybek because that same magic is here on nearly every page. None but these two can make your heart long for the decrepit alleys, abandoned lots, and the El the way they do.

  28. 5 out of 5

    Katherine Shaw

    Listened to pet milk on New Yorker fiction podcast and now want to read the rest. Beautiful concrete sensory description. “Our plans for the future made us laugh and feel close, but those same plans somehow made anything more than temporary between us seem impossible. It was the first time I’d ever had the feeling of missing someone I was still with.”

  29. 5 out of 5

    Jason McKinney

    These stories have a 70s/80s aura to them and so feel sort of dated at this point. The gems include Chopin in Winter, Blight, and Nighthawks. I didn't end up finishing Hot Ice because though the plot is different, it felt like the characters and setting are almost identical to Blight. I didn't feel like this was a great collection, but it's certainly readable enough.

  30. 5 out of 5

    Gretchen

    This is the second selection for Chicago History Book Club and I am super excited to talk about it. It reminds me of Barbara Kingsolver and that whole late 80s/early 90s era of short story lyrical realism. I especially enjoy Dybek's micro-stories, although I think Nighthawks was my favorite of the bunch.

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