Fiction Review: “The Fugue” by Gint Aras

Book Reviews, Chicago Authors, Fiction No Comments »


Lovers of Chicago-area literature have a new book to add to their nightstands: Gint Aras’ novel, “The Fugue,” which has been called “an homage to the urban grit of Nelson Algren and the family sagas of Leo Tolstoy.” Aras sets his novel in Cicero, Illinois, spanning the era of World War II to 2001. He focuses on several displaced refugees and their children and keeps the reader eagerly turning pages.

Aras riffs on the fugue motif in multiple ways. The novel itself unfolds like a fugue. It opens with young Orest in hiding with his mother, grandfather and baby brother in 1940 war torn Western Ukraine. It develops with interwoven stories and voices of characters related in some way to Orest, and the novel closes with a recapitulation, a return to Orest’s story in Western Ukraine. Read the rest of this entry »

Journal Review: The Point Issue 11, Edited by Jon Baskin, Jonny Thakkar, Etay Zwick

Book Reviews, Chicago Authors, Literary Journal No Comments »


Original, witty, and rewarding, The Point magazine was created in 2009 by three University of Chicago graduate students and “founded on the suspicion that modern life is worth examining.” Playing on the word point and named after Chicago’s South Side Promontory Point, the semiannual publication goes far beyond our city’s borders in scope. All issues are made up of essays, a symposium on a topic chosen by the editors, reviews, artwork and an editors’ letter outlining the issue’s theme.

In Issue 11, the editors write about politics. In “On Purity,” they suggest that it’s impossible for ideals to remain uncorrupted, that “the ability to build an effective political movement, in addition to a passionate one, might depend on cultivating the kind of convictions that are able to survive contamination.” What sort of convictions might these be? The writers in this issue address that question. Read the rest of this entry »

Gaining Gay Power: Timothy Stewart-Winter Discusses “Queer Clout: Chicago and the Rise of Gay Politics”

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TSW photo_1
By Toni Nealie

Stonewall and Harvey Milk were exceptional, but Chicago’s story better represented the nation’s path to gay power. In his first book, “Queer Clout: Chicago and the Rise of Gay Politics,” Timothy Stewart-Winter combines oral history and archival records to tell the local story of activism and politics. By email, he told me that the movement was shaped by the fear of being exposed by law enforcement, then losing your job, family or both.

I was unaware of the alliance between black civil rights activists and the gay liberation movement. Was that news to you? What was surprising?
It surprised me that black politics gave birth to gay politics, not just by offering a template, but by forging a liberal coalition that questioned the police, the machine and a business elite that favored boosterism over marginalized folks. We hear a lot about black straight homophobia and white gay racism. They both mattered, but they were never the only part of the story. Read the rest of this entry »

Fiction Review: “Sex and Death” by Ben Tanzer

Book Reviews, Chicago Authors, Fiction No Comments »

Though Ben Tanzer’s new collection of short stories is mostly set in domestic spaces and everyday places like homes, airplanes, baseball fields, school events and Facebook, in noir fashion, “Sex and Death” is rife with femme fatales, con games, affairs, jealous spouses, pasts which characters can never entirely leave behind, and even some riddles, wrapped in mysteries, inside enigmas.

Most of Tanzer’s characters claim to be just “fine,” but they are simultaneously imprisoned by binds that tie, harried with work, and hellbent on not becoming their parents, “waiting for an opening, a weakness, something you can grab hold of, and then twist, pull, prod and arrange into something different and useful.” These openings are often made way by ennui, curiosity and unresolved pasts. A married man suddenly finds himself in unfamiliar sheets with “the moist smell of sex still lingering in the air” after seemingly-innocuous-though-ultimately-flirtatious exchanges with a married woman from his kid’s school. A widow considers reaching out to her late husband’s mistress, “the only other person in the world who might be able to mirror [her] feelings of love and loss.” A man flashes back to boyhood and tries to put certain recurring memories together to make sense of his parents’ failed relationship. A married woman, unsure if she wants to stay with “the husband who sometimes feels like a sibling or friend,” reconnects with an old flame on Facebook for a little excitement, until things get strange. Read the rest of this entry »

Superconducting Super Colliders and the Simplicity of Overlooked Love: Chrissy Kolaya Discusses her Debut Novel, “Charmed Particles

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Chrissy Kolaya (photo Nina Francine)

Chrissy Kolaya/Photo: Nina Francine

By Natalie Black

Poet and writer Chrissy Kolaya’s debut novel, “Charmed Particles,” combines the political and the personal, using the conflict around possible expansion of a Superconducting Super Collider (SSC) in Nicolet, Illinois to examine the lives of people living around the proposed expansion area. Two families, the Mitals and the Winchesters, bring this conflict to life. Abhijat and Sarala Mital are Indian immigrants, he a theoretical physicist bent on winning a Nobel prize, she a traditional housewife; together, they have a gifted daughter, Meena. The other family is the Winchesters: Randolph and Rose who also have a daughter, Lily, who is just as brilliant as Meena. Randolph, like Abhijat, puts his career before his family, and lives for glory as a world explorer as much as for the joys of traveling. “Charmed Particles” examines human nature through community conflict but, more importantly, it is a study of self-realization. Read the rest of this entry »

Poetry Review: “I Remember: Chicago Veterans of War” Edited by Chris Green

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i remember

In “I Remember: Chicago Veterans of War,” Chris Green has woven the personal memories of veterans from all of the modern wars to capture the experience of going to war and returning from it. It’s a quick read and a charged one, full of all the devastating memories you expect from a book about war. Read the rest of this entry »

The Need to Be Rational: Debra Monroe on Her New Memoir, “My Unsentimental Education”

Memoir No Comments »
debra monroe close up

Debra Monroe/Photo: Suzanne Reiss

By Amy Danzer

In her new memoir, “My Unsentimental Education,” Debra Monroe—author of “On the Outskirts of Normal,” “Shambles,” “Newfangled,” “A Wild, Cold State” and “The Source of Trouble,” whose work has won numerous awards—uses her characteristic dry wit and stylish prose to give us glimpses into pivotal instructive moments in her life. She takes us through different stages in her edification by way of formal education, jobs, career and relationships—from her working-class roots in Spooner, Wisconsin to where she now teaches writing at Texas State University, San Marcos. As she navigates these different terrains and phases in her life, she learns much about the influence people and places can have on a person, but also the power of one’s own wanting. Read the rest of this entry »

Found In Translation: An Interview with Aviya Kushner about “The Grammar of God”

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Aviya Kushner (c) Gur Salomon

Aviya Kushner/Photo: Gur Salomon

By Toni Nealie

The Bible is a holy text for many and a work of literature and cultural resonance for all, so Aviya Kushner’s obsession with the book’s translation is eye-opening and captivating. Growing up in a Jewish, Hebrew-speaking family, she was startled to encounter the English version when she took a Bible literature course with writer Marilynne Robinson at the Iowa Writers’ Workshop. Kushner discovered that much of what she understood about the creation myth, slavery and the Ten Commandments were rendered very differently in various translations. Read the rest of this entry »

Race and the Silver Screen in Chicago’s Loop: Gerald R. Butters on his new book, “From Sweetback to Superfly”

Chicago Authors, History No Comments »

gerald butters iiBy Toni Nealie

Chicago’s Loop was once a lively area of movie theaters, the second most important cinema market in the country from the 1920s through the 1970s. By 1990, all eleven venues were gone. Film historian and Aurora University professor Gerald R. Butters has written a thoroughly researched and absorbing book, “From Sweetback to Superfly: Race and Film Audiences in Chicago’s Loop,” examining the clash of community, entertainment and business interests in Chicago. Read the rest of this entry »

The Poetics of Mona: Parsing Jen Beagin’s Excellent Debut Novel, “Pretend I’m Dead”

Fiction 1 Comment »

beagin 2

By Christine Sneed

Jen Beagin’s novel “Pretend I’m Dead” is an enviably accomplished debut. It’s full of brilliant language and many instances of laugh-out-loud, frequently self-mocking humor. The novel’s four sections all focus on Mona, a young woman whose adventures take her to places such as Lowell, Massachusetts and a small New Mexico town near Taos. Wherever she goes, she always manages to meet a number of characters as memorable as she herself. Read the rest of this entry »