Tuesday, May 3, 2011

Brass Knuckles

Oh what to tell you about Dybek. If you haven't read Stuart Dybek you aren't from Chicago. In Chicago he is an icon. When you read his short stories they take you to the places my parents took me as a child, Bridgeport, Pilsen, Marquette Park. He captures the essence of Chicago in a way no other writer has even come close. And if you are a guy, he's a guy's guy kinda writer. What does that mean? Well, he understands romance and passion but doesn't get too caught up in it or should I say he finds romance in things men find touching, the bond of friendship, the beauty of sports, the idea of a legend. I've been to a reading, and he reads his work well but he's not as passionate about it as a fan would be. I like that part too. When I am reading Dybek I think of my grandmother taking us for a Saturday adventure down Archer Avenue to stop at the little stores on the way, visiting with friends. In Bridgeport the streets and side walks have little passage ways to the homes, like sidewalks on stilts and we were forever scolded not to go down under the sidewalks to go exploring but when Grandma Helen would take us to visit out Aunt Rita, we'd find ourselves exploring the catacombs under the city. Aunt Rita worked for Wrigley and she'd send us home with boxes of gum and spoil us rotten while we were there cooking some special dish they served in the "old country."

The first short story I ever read of Dybek's was a story called "we didn't," all about a young couple on the beach in Chicago getting ready to make love, waiting all summer, through "shades of lip gloss" and right before they were having that movie moment the police pull a dead body out of the lake. That omen would foreshadow anything they could do after. But let me tell you the moments before were so full of excitement and just hints of sexuality, the pulse beat of a city, the lightning flashes over Indiana, the feel of youth and summer that you just get lost in the telling of it and suddenly you are listening to jazz, not analyzing jazz really just enjoying it for what it is, joy.

His poetry? I've read all I can find and it's OK, but its not his fiction, the fiction is pure and good and from his soul. He teaches at Northwestern and his books Sailed with Magellan and The Coast of Chicago are perfect. Each story makes you want to read the next and you keep them with you, they become a part of your city, your thought on heritage and family and how we live. If I had to pick one book I guess it would be Childhood and other Neighborhoods. I was convinced after reading it that children, as children we all see things that are shocking to adults and that will frame our thought processes for life.

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