By Micah McCrary
His author’s bio reads: “Dan Beachy-Quick is the author of five books of poems, most recently ‘Circle’s Apprentice.’ ‘A Whaler’s Dictionary,’ his celebrated collection of meditations on Melville’s ‘Moby-Dick,’ appeared from Milkweed Editions in 2008. Beachy-Quick teaches at Colorado State University, and lives in Fort Collins.” The Chicago-born Beachy-Quick, most recently the author of “Wonderful Investigations,” is an author willing to scrutinize his interests—both academic and aesthetic—in a way that many writers of nonfiction seem afraid to try.
Beachy-Quick spoke about his “Wonderful Investigations”—about his willingness to look deeper and closer and further into the things that make him want to read and write. Read the rest of this entry »
GQ deputy editor Michael Hainey, Chicago-raised and educated, is known to friends and professionals as a very good guy in a glamorous, sometimes cutthroat field. For years Hainey has helped run the show at one of the hottest men’s magazines in America, all the while keeping a dark family secret dating to his childhood and the heights of Chicago journalism. In “After Visiting Friends” Hainey finally turns his reporting skills to the riveting mystery of his news-editor father’s untimely death. Chicago Sun Times newsman Bob Hainey was found inexplicably DOA in the middle of the night on a North Side Chicago street in April 1970, when his youngest son was only six years old. But the details did not add up.
The younger Hainey pressed his mother for more about the tragedy that left a haunted, silent family. None came, either from her or Uncle Dick, the feared Chicago Today executive editor, who first telephoned his mother of the death. As the son rose in his own career, he strove to match the absent father’s reputation, dreaming of him, pondering the conflicting obituaries and seeking answers. In a magnetic style reminiscent of Capote and Elmore Leonard, Hainey details what he found next. Read the rest of this entry »
The word to describe “Heroines” is “chameleonic.” You know there’s a book in your field of vision, you hold its spine in your hands and caress the pages. But just as the eponymous lizard disguises itself to blend into the patterns of tree bark and rock face, so too does Kate Zambreno’s first volume of nonfiction masquerade in a number of patterns and motifs. The author of the novels “Green Girl” and “O Fallen Angel” began the work that became “Heroines” in 2009 as the blog “Frances Farmer is My Sister,” drawing together parallels between her own lives as a writer, a woman, and a woman writer. “Heroines” then falls into the newly burgeoning tradition of literary-history-as-memoir, joining such recent texts as Alison Bechdel’s “Are You My Mother?” and Grant Morrison’s “Supergods.” (The chameleon shifts, climbs down from the exposed tree root and sets foot on a slab of cracked dirty granite.)
Or it didn’t. Now it’s a work of literary analysis and historiography tracking down the shadow lives of Jean Rhys and Zelda Fitzgerald in the pages of Stop Smiling magazine and the Rain Taxi Review. (The movement of the tail gives it away as it slides into the apple-green grass.) Read the rest of this entry »
By Greg Baldino
In the never-ending battle for identity between what is thought of as “mainstream” and what we consider “alternative” or “outsider,” it’s easy to forget that the margins of society have margins within them as well. For sometime now the dirty laundry in the LGBT culture has been the hesitance among some gay and lesbian institutions and communities to accept bisexual and transgender individuals—let alone those who identify as genderqueer, or asexual, or gender-neutral. (The Michigan Womyn’s Festival’s policy against transwomen is perhaps the most public and prominent of these biases within the queer community, but far from the only one.) In a time then when more and more people find themselves on the outside of the outside, it is increasingly important that voices be raised against the Will-and-Grace-ification of nonheteronormative identity. The internet has certainly opened the gates for such a discussion, but this year also saw three books published that challenged ideas about sexual and gender identity with style, heart, and energy.
A Queer and Pleasant Danger, by Kate Bornstein (Beacon, $24.95)
One of the most pre-eminent trans-activists, Kate Bornstein has written and edited numerous books on gender identity and being an outsider. Remarkably, this memoir is her first book that’s just about herself, and the twisty windy path she took in life. Read the rest of this entry »
Set in Missouri, Jeremy Jackson’s dreamy, imagery-driven memoir opens with a lengthy description of his family’s reaction to a near-tornado. Methodical and foreboding, the opening casts the author as a naive ten-year-old, his older sister Elizabeth as a brazen adventurer, and his grandmother as a woman on the brink of change.
Reading, one responds instinctively to Jackson’s subtle tension-building. In his hands, wind and rain become a perfect storm of free-floating unease. Yet as Jackson delves into lengthy descriptions of visits to his grandparents, Elizabeth’s power struggles with her parents, berry-picking and school-boy crushes, he allows tension’s rope to grow slack. Perhaps intentional, this shift causes the reader’s interest to wane. It’s a pattern he returns to, writing in tense prose about grandmother’s inexplicable nightly pain, only to veer into an unrelated anecdote about mealtime or a fishing trip. Eventually, the early sense of foreboding crystalizes into grandmother’s drawn-out battle with cancer and its impact on the family as a whole. As Jackson delves into this painful period, he delivers both wrenching descriptions and distracting choices. Read the rest of this entry »
Fans of British writer Rachel Cusk’s seven novels or her lacerating memoir of new motherhood, “A Life’s Work,” will be saddened by the painful revelations about her divorce and its effects upon her young daughters, but they will hardly be surprised by the unflinching gaze on display in “Aftermath: On Marriage and Separation.” This spare, eloquent memoir draws on ancient Greek drama to compare what Cusk perceives in herself and her children, as if only the murderous strife of Agamemnon and Clytemnestra can adequately portray what it is like when a family fractures. Cusk’s restless, ranging intellect—“I don’t ever want you to tell me that I think too much,” she warns her psychoanalyst in their first meeting, “if you say that I’ll leave”—pulls in example after example from the literature of great human tragedy, interweaving the high canon with small, heartbreaking details about life after marriage. When her daughter is shunned by new friends, Cusk’s protective fury can’t fully comfort her betrayed daughter, who now sees the world in a radically altered way: “They probably didn’t even realize, she sighs, looking out of the window into darkness. They probably didn’t even think about it. That’s just what people are like.” Read the rest of this entry »
“Kasher in the Rye” bears striking similarities to Salinger’s predecessor: It’s a sad, yet humorous, frank and hauntingly relatable story of a young man who is out of sorts with the world and in desperate need of comfort. The big difference is that “Kasher” is exceedingly more graphic, shocking and punctuated by violence and criminal acts that Holden Caulfield wouldn’t dare touch.
“Kasher” is the true-life story of stand-up comedian and writer Moshe Kasher, born to deaf Jewish New Yorker parents in 1979. Barely a year old, Kasher’s mother took him and his brother on a two-week “vacation” to California, never to return. Enter the hippie, hip-hop world of Oakland, California, where Kasher’s family subsisted on welfare and the support of a feminist grandmother. Read the rest of this entry »
By Greg Baldino
Alison Bechdel’s career as a cartoonist began in a series of short strips published in gay and lesbian newspapers in the early eighties under the title “Dykes to Watch Out For.” As her work grew both in refinement and scope, so too did her audience, and in 2006 she published her first graphic memoir, “Fun Home,” a critically acclaimed best-seller. Following up on that book’s exploration of her relationship with her late father, Bechdel’s new book, “Are You My Mother?” examines her ongoing relationship with her mother, her early lesbian relationships and her experiences with and interest in psychoanalysis.
First off, congratulations on your Guggenheim Fellowship. Could you talk a bit about how that came about? Read the rest of this entry »
“Why Be Happy When You Could Be Normal?” is the first memoir by Jeanette Winterson, even though her books generally contain elements of autobiography. The memoir is a response to her first work of fiction, “Oranges Are Not the Only Fruit” which, when she wrote it more than twenty-five years ago, launched her into literary fame and eventually became a BBC mini-series.
Winterson, who revisits the themes of experience, biography, fiction and feminism, explains that her first book was partly a challenge to the perception that women are writers of experiential—and thus less masterful—fiction. Winterson’s goal was to express both “experience and experiment.” It’s with something like horror that any devotee of “Oranges” will read, “I told my version—faithful and invented, accurate and misremembered, shuffled in time. I told myself as a hero like any shipwreck story… And I suppose that the saddest thing for me, thinking about the cover version that is ‘Oranges,’ is that I wrote a story I could live with. The other one was too painful. I could not survive it.” Read the rest of this entry »
Readers of Chicago history should already know the name Richard Lindberg. He has authored fifteen books, among them the 2010 Society of Midland Authors Award-winning biography “The Gambler King of Clark Street: Michael C. McDonald and the Rise of Chicago’s Democratic Machine.”
Yet his newest, the product of a self-confessed “life’s mission,” may be his masterpiece. In reconstructing his own somewhat mysterious Swedish-immigrant origins, “Whiskey Breakfast: My Swedish Family, My American Life” is simultaneously a highly personal and unflinching deconstruction of and challenge to both Chicago immigrant and suburban myths. Read the rest of this entry »