Exploring Nelson Algren’s Literary Legacy: A Review of “Never a Lovely So Real”

The other day at the coffee shop, a young woman asked me what I was reading. When I told her it was a new biography of Nelson Algren, she drew a blank. It wasn’t until I mentioned Algren’s long affair with Simone de Beauvoir that her face lit up with recognition. This woman is well-read and has lived in Chicago a few years, but she’d never heard of arguably the city’s greatest chronicler. And she’s not alone. Though Algren won the very first National Book Award in 1950, and was considered a top tier writer for a decade or so thereafter, he’s rarely mentioned in the same breath as Hemingway or Faulkner anymore. I’m hoping that Colin Asher’s definitive portrait of the man might change that.

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“Jinx”: An Excerpt from Dmitry Samarov’s “Music to My Eyes”

Today, we’re pleased to present an excerpt from Dmitry Samarov’s forthcoming book Music to My Eyes, due out on April 1st on Tortoise Books. In it, Samarov turns the spotlight on several of the musicians who have impressed him most over the years, bringing together his impressions of their sound with memories of a changing Chicago — and, of course, his artwork, capturing the energy and emotion of musicians playing before an audience.  

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The Vivian Mire (Revisited)

I never met Vivian Maier and doubt whether we’d have gotten along if I had. Taciturn, solitary people obsessed with their own struggles don’t often make friends. Yet we walked the same streets, went the same places. We probably crossed paths more than once, but it was as strangers—the way so many do in the city—never meant to know one another as anything but passersby. Now, many, many strangers know Maier, or think they do. She probably wouldn’t like the […]

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A Transformative Trip Through Images and Words: Raymond Pettibon at the New Museum

When the elevator doors open on the fourth floor of the New Museum I don’t know which way to look first. Every wall is covered snuggly by pictures and words. Some drawings are framed, others just tacked to the wall the way a teenager might display a band flyer swiped from a club wall after a gig. It’s a dense polyphony which demands attention without giving the viewer much guidance. A quick scan yields glimpses of Kennedy, Reagan, Bush, and […]

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Art Against Injustice: Notes on Revisiting Nelson Algren

I go way back with Nelson Algren. Reading his great second novel Never Come Morning in high school in the 80s introduced me to Chicago, the city which I have called home for most of my adult life. He is a writer who is loved fervently by a small cadre of rabid acolytes and largely ignored by the larger culture. The reasons for his abandonment are many. Periodically though, he is rediscovered. The last few years have been such a […]

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Distance, Travel, and Tragedy: A Review of Melanie Finn’s “The Gloaming”

A pilgrim is a person who travels to a sacred place for religious reasons. Pilgrim Jones, the haunted heroine of Melanie Finn’s vivid novel The Gloaming, is a seeker of sorts as well. Unmoored by the dissolution of her marriage and a tragic accident in which three Swiss children perish, she sets off for Africa hoping to find a reason to keep living. Though there are many elements of the thriller and mystery genres in Finn’s book, they are used […]

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Malaise, Betrayal, and Looming Mortality: A Review of Masande Ntshanga’s “The Reactive”

The act of doing nothing is a difficult thing to write about, especially over the length of a novel, but Masande Ntshanga manages to do so brilliantly in his debut novel The Reactive. Three friends spend their days huffing glue, chewing khat, getting drunk, and otherwise nullifying their days. They have day-jobs but make most of their money re-selling anti-retroviral drugs to HIV patients. It’s a stultifying existence, but these are not your garden variety junkies and their fate is […]

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A Mixtape of Musical History: A Review of John Doe’s “Under the Big Black Sun”

“Writing about music is like dancing about architecture” said either Martin Mull or Elvis Costello, depending on which source you believe. Either way we keep doing it, knowing full well the kind of lightning made by mouths or slapping strings can’t be captured on the printed page. The many differences between the sung and written word kept eating at me as I read Under the Big Black Sun—a Personal History of L.A. Punk.

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