Nonfiction Review: Something Wrong with Her: A Real-Time Memoir by Cris Mazza

Book Reviews, Chicago Authors, Memoir, Nonfiction No Comments »


“Something Wrong with Her” is an arresting chronicle of the personal consequences of an artist’s sexual dysfunction, caused by a medical condition called a weak pelvic floor. The condition can be treated with physical therapy but in Mazza’s case it remained undiagnosed for decades, deepening the isolation of a gifted author trying to understand why she feels pain when others feel pleasure. That this happened during a sexual revolution of the 1970s and eighties only adds to her self-doubt.

Many narrative levels operate in the book. Striking journals of unhappy relations with men are grafted onto a memoir that is being critiqued by the author’s writing group. Arranged “like the barbs on an arrow” are quotes from Mazza’s numerous published stories and novels, her personal emails, dream logs and high-school yearbook inscriptions. The emails are with a tenor saxophonist friend addressed as “MarkR,” who has a lifelong crush on her. Both experience failed marriages while brooding on the past. Interspersed are useful mantras on creative writing, all this arranged as a jazz fake book, a loose-leaf that musicians used to carry to club dates and wedding gigs. Read the rest of this entry »

Rewriting the Adolescent Narrative: Megan Milks on “Kill Marguerite”

Chicago Authors, Debut Novel or Collection, Story Collections No Comments »
photo: Megan Milks

Photo: Megan Milks

By Anne Yoder

I first encountered Megan Milks’ work when we were both fledgling critics for PopMatters. Her writing stood out as intelligent, daring and quite promiscuous in its range of ideas. She went on to found the zine “Mildred Pierce” and contribute to the avant-lit blog Montevidayo. And I’m still reading her today.

Milks’ stories in her debut collection “Kill Marguerite” draw influence from cultures both high and low, from Homer and Joyce to video games and teen magazine columns. They never sit quietly, but rather unsettle convention and defy expectation. In fact, the moment you think you know what’s happening, the story opens into an unexpected black hole, thrusting you into a passage that devours and reconfigures expectations. Read the rest of this entry »

Toasting the Man Chicago Almost Forgot, Nelson Algren

Chicago Authors, Lit Events, News Etc. No Comments »

NALGRENOn March 29, the Nelson Algren Committee will host the twenty-fifth annual Nelson Algren Birthday Party to honor the man who eternalized Chicago’s “drunks, pimps, prostitutes, freaks, drug addicts, prize fighters, corrupt politicians, and hoodlums” with his books “The Man With the Golden Arm,” “Neon Wilderness,” and “Chicago: City on the Make.”

This year would mark Algren’s 106th birthday—which actually falls on March 28—but  the festivities planned are lively: theater mainstays Donna Blue Lachman and Bob Swann will be presenting Algren’s work with folksinger Mark Dvorak, filmmaker Tom Palazzolo, actor-director Nate Herman, activist Robert Lopez, and novelist Christopher Corbett. Poetry readings, excerpts from the in-progress documentary, “Nelson Algren: The End is Nothing, The Road is All,” and a tribute to Algren’s lover Simone de Beauvoir. Read the rest of this entry »

Nonfiction Review: “You Feel So Mortal” by Peggy Shinner

Book Reviews, Chicago Authors, Nonfiction No Comments »

RECOMMENDED 9780226105277

Peggy Shinner’s new collection, “You Feel So Mortal,” is about the intersection of the body and identity, both crafted by ourselves and forced upon us. In an essay titled “Elective,” Shinner takes on the issue of Jewish identity through stereotype with the nose job she had at sixteen to make it “prettier, more proportional, more marriageable…more, but not too, Gentile.” She reflects that the procedure keeps a coworker from immediately recognizing her ancestry, but similar surgeries weren’t enough to save some Jews from the Holocaust. She writes, “the stakes are high when it comes to the body.”

Shinner jumps deftly between the personal and the academic. Multiple essays begin with personal experiences to introduce a researched topic. In “Leopold and Shinner,” she uses her discovery of a letter from a post-prison Nathan Leopold addressed to her mother as an opportunity to discuss the larger cultural phenomena of ordinary people writing to him in prison. She quotes from archived letters to him, cites the pseudoscientific reports that newspapers published to demonize him and Loeb, and even explicates the implications of the word “degenerate.” It risks coming off as miscellanea, but Shinner always returns to the personal. Read the rest of this entry »

Fiction Review: “Bedrock Faith” by Eric Charles May

Book Reviews, Chicago Authors, Debut Novel or Collection, Fiction No Comments »

RECOMMENDED BedrockFaith2-533x800

Eric Charles May and James Baldwin share more than skin color and writing passion. They are masters of the complicated operas that unfold in a particular place, of the complexities and frailties of mankind. “Bedrock Faith” is May’s first novel, and since approaching Baldwin is no idle feat, one only hopes he’ll write more.

Parkland is a proud, entrenched African-American community on the far South Side of Chicago, just touching Blue Island. The characters we hear from have owned their homes for generations, pillars in their close-knit community. All of it goes to hell the day Stew Pot Reeves comes back from prison. He’s no average neighborhood terror; in his younger days he decapitated a cat and lit a garage on fire. But now, he’s a Christian—a very devout Christian who has lost none of his old fondness for meddling. In short order the neighborhood, already tense, nearly explodes into uproar. Read the rest of this entry »

Finding Space: An Interview with Ben Tanzer

Author Profiles, Chicago Authors, Chicago Publishers 1 Comment »

1901386_687975724588122_1540003181_n-1By Liz Baudler

“As far as I know, the only people who have read the book are three women, all twenty-five and under, and two of you said, ‘I have no interest in having kids, but I liked the book,’” said Ben Tanzer. The Chicago author, publisher and podcaster was referring to his new essay collection “Lost In Space,” adventures in fathering his two sons, Myles and Noah. “Lost In Space” drips with pop-culture riffs and love letters to Chicago; it’s a book non-parents can wholeheartedly enjoy and actual parents can appreciate. Ben Tanzer and I chatted over Cuban coffees and Latin music about the hard jobs of writing and parenting.

Whenever I’ve heard you read, you’ve focused on relationships.
I am very into relationships. Sometimes it’s conscious, sometimes less so, but I’ve always been drawn to how people connect and how things get disrupted. In our lives, the most confusion’s around relationships, so how do we communicate, what’s real? How we can say things to people that we know are a mistake. Read the rest of this entry »

From Where I Write: Gina Frangello

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photo: Shaun Crittenden

Photo: Shaun Crittenden

By Naomi Huffman

I first met Gina Frangello in 2011, when I was an undergrad studying writing at Columbia College; I took a fiction seminar class she taught my senior year. When she introduced herself she talked about her novel, which she was revising, and which would turn out to be “A Life in Men,” released last month from Algonquin. She went on to talk about the books we would read and study that semester (“You guys are going to love Milan Kundera,” she insisted—she was right), and then she talked passionately for several minutes about the books she was reading, written by friends and by writers she admired. Her enthusiasm was palpable; right away, I began to admire her support of other people’s work.

The summer after I graduated from Columbia, I was hired by Gina and her husband David to nanny her twin daughters Madeleine and Kenza and their friend Siena, who were then eleven years old. I picked them up three days a week from their home in Roscoe Village, which has the kind of beautiful slatted hardwood floors, gaping windows and dark wood trim I’ve come to associate with old Chicago houses. There was often some sort of minor tragedy unfolding when I arrived at their home those summer mornings—a misplaced shoe or transit pass, a forgotten lunch box, teeth or hair that needed brushing. I don’t know what she did when we finally left, but I liked to think of Gina writing, savoring the new quiet of the house, working in her small office just off the main rooms of the house, which does not have a door.  Read the rest of this entry »

Our Minds Work Against Our Hearts: Rachel Louise Snyder on Writing Suburban Crime in “What We’ve Lost Is Nothing”

Author Profiles, Chicago Authors, Fiction No Comments »
Photo: Jocelyn Augustino

Photo: Jocelyn Augustino

By Ted Anton

In “What We’ve Lost Is Nothing,” former Oak Park resident manager and journalist Rachel Snyder tells the story of what happens when two high-school girls stay home to try ecstasy the same afternoon their street is rocked by a series of home invasions. The neighborhood suspicions threaten to rip apart Oak Park’s suburban veneer of race and class harmony. An assistant professor in creative writing at American University in Washington, Snyder has written for The New Yorker and The New York Times Magazine, and has appeared frequently on National Public Radio. She published the investigative “Fugitive Denim: A Moving Story of People and Pants in the Borderless World of Global Trade” in 2007. “What We’ve Lost Is Nothing” is her first novel.

So what was the inspiration for “What We’ve Lost Is Nothing?”
I was accompanying an American military MIA mission in Vietnam, writing for a magazine, and a friend there told me this story of these robberies all in one night that happened in Georgia. The story stuck with me. Read the rest of this entry »

Nonfiction Review: “Meaty” by Samantha Irby

Chicago Authors, Essays No Comments »


A lot of “Meaty”’s reviews can be summed up this way: “lol omg this girl is talking about how she craps her pants she’s so awesome.” Reading reviews like this, one gets the idea that all Samantha Irby talks about is shit. This is very off-putting if one does not want to read about shit. And it’s very unfair to this slim essay collection, reducing it to a defecation bonanza. So perhaps it’s a good thing Newcity is late to the reviewing feast upon “Meaty.”

Most people would be annoyed, eyebrows raised, a knowing smirk, if upon meeting someone for the first time, they mentioned within five minutes that they wanted a MacBook Pro, they vomited on the train three times in the past eight months, and they needed some more friends. For some reason—her utter lack of guile, perhaps—Irby comes off as charming rather than spoiled or demanding. And eventually, the reason for this tone’s revealed. A girl who grew up taking care of an invalid mother, who accepted her lack of good looks at an early age, who liked hanging out with the moms at parties, who never had anyone to show her how to balance a checkbook: this girl cannot be spoiled. It’s just not possible. At the risk of armchair psychology, her past might be why Irby is so into spoiling herself.  Read the rest of this entry »

The Zen of Zines: “King Cat” Reigns Supreme

Chicago Authors, Comics/Graphic Novels/Cartoonists No Comments »

By Megan Kirby King-Cat 74

Today, the nineties are glorified as a golden era for independent publishing, a decade when every photocopier ran hot with the printing of punk-rock fanzines and weird-out mini-comics. A lucky few made it big, releasing polished graphic novels with big-name comics publishers. Most just got tired and left the days of staple-bound periodicals behind them.

Through decades of DIY publishing shifts, there’s been a stubborn constant: “King-Cat Comix and Stories,” a zine that John Porcellino has self-published since 1989, and which is released today through his own distro, Spit and a Half. Porcellino started “King-Cat” when he was in high school with simple line comics and hand-written stories about punk rock and mental health, along with tongue-in-cheek fantasy sequences. (One early issue was dedicated to Porcellino’s fictional love affair with Madonna). He often wrote about Illinois, exploring his hometown of Hoffman Estates and the suburbs around Chicago. Read the rest of this entry »