Fiction Review: “The Sea Is My Brother: The Lost Novel” by Jack Kerouac

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The release of Jack Kerouac’s “The Sea Is My Brother” is one of those signal publishing events: publication of a lost novel by a famous author whose corpus has by now been well established. As is happens, long before Kerouac reported from “On the Road,” he was on the high seas and at the tender age of twenty-one penned a novel based on his experiences in the midst of World War II.

And while this novel, appearing for the first time in its unedited entirety, will not motivate any fundamental re-evaluation of its author’s work, it provides a captivating preview into the author—and his works—to be. If it is flawed—naïve in certain respects, overwritten here and there, too simple in its plotting—“The Sea Is My Brother” is also a complete story, romantic, energetic, exuberant and even brash, qualities Kerouac never outgrew. Read the rest of this entry »

Fiction Review: “A Stricken Field” by Martha Gellhorn

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RECOMMENDED

A fictional masterpiece of the impending horror of Hitler’s “Final Solution,” Martha Gellhorn’s 1940 “A Stricken Field” is now generally regarded as her finest book. Sadly, she did not see it that way.

A new foreword and her own 1985 afterword to a freshly republished edition show how by making an American journalist—a thinly veiled version of herself—a central character of her novel she was “troubled by a secret shame. I had used two of my own small acts in that tragedy as part of the story. It was not my tragedy and I disliked myself for taking a fictionalized share.”

She felt she had inflated herself at the expense of the many real people she had encountered (and fictionalized) who had shown true heroism in the face of the Nazi machine advancing through Czechoslovakia in 1938. Yet “A Stricken Field” draws its power from the viewpoint of one whom we know must have been a real witness to the telling details that build one upon another to choking, terrifying effect. Read the rest of this entry »

Fiction Review: “The Fiction At Work Biannual Report” and “They Could No Longer Contain Themselves: A Collection of Five Flash Chapbooks”

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By Martin Northway

Intermittently fiction tries to reinvigorate itself with new forms. Now we have “flash fiction,” like what we have long called short, short fiction but imbued somehow with greater urgency, nurtured in the hothouse of the Internet blogosphere. Its products are like watermelons stolen by their writers from odd moments in the workaday world or the humdrum of life.

Tobias Bengelsdorf, in his introduction to a compendium of short works that is the newest print project of Chicago’s Green Lantern Press, makes no apology for his own transgressions against employers, for “Every office I’ve worked in was a den of wasted time and preposterous directives.”

And as with stolen watermelons, flash fiction can be very sweet, including some of these selections gleaned from Fiction At Work’s blog (fictionatwork.com) since its inception in 2007. At their best, they yield unexpected glimpses into other lives. Read the rest of this entry »

Endless Frontiers: “The Wilder Life: My Adventures in the Lost World of Little House on the Prairie” by Wendy McClure and “Cabin: Two Brothers, a Dream, and Five Acres in Maine” by Lou Ureneck

Book Reviews, Chicago Authors, Nonfiction No Comments »

RECOMMENDED

By Martin Northway

Ever since the 1893 Columbian Exposition in Chicago when historian Frederick Jackson Turner declared the closing of the American frontier, people have been trying to find that frontier once again.

At about the same time in 2008, nearly coinciding with the Wall Street meltdown, two writers plying their trade almost half a continent apart began fulfilling their own separate “back to the land” dreams. In Chicago, editor Wendy McClure (author of “I’m Not the New Me”) began a tour of the Midwest settings of Laura Ingalls Wilder’s “Little House” frontier books that had been so formative in her youth.

Meanwhile, Boston newspaperman Lou Ureneck (author of award-winning “Backcast: Fatherhood, Fly-fishing, and a River Journey Through the Heart of Alaska”) was burrowing into New England’s own version of the “West”—upland Maine—to build a cabin and thereby reclaim his version of the American homesteading dream.

Each was responding in part to personal tragedy in their lives—in McClure’s case the death of her mother, and in Ureneck’s a decade’s worth of setbacks in marriage and career as well as the death of his own mother. Read the rest of this entry »

411: Grand-Papa

Lit Events, News Etc. No Comments »

The Second Annual Windy City Story Slam All-City Championships, which will be held at Double Door on February 26, features guests as wide-ranging as Bonnie Jo Campbell, John Schultz, Ben Evans and Alexis Thomas, plus one special appearance by John Patrick Hemingway, Ernest Hemingway’s writer grandson. “This one will be hard to believe,” says Windy City Story Slam’s Bill Hillman, when asked how he became involved with Hemingway. “I was in Pamplona during Fiesta when my sort-of-guru out there, a Scotsman named Greame Galloway, woke me up in the middle of the night and said he needed me to back him and his friends up because a drunk was being abusive to them. So I go out there—luckily the drunk is gone—and I’m in the beautiful main square in Pamplona, and I sit down next to a Hemingway look-alike. They were having a contest. Sitting on the other side of me is John Hemingway, a very nice, intelligent guy who enjoys talking about his grandfather. He even has incredibly thick skin about it because Graeme has an cruel Scottish sense of humor and was constantly cracking jokes about cross-dressing and suicide and John took in stride and had fun with it.” Um, the Windy City Story Slam just got really interesting, no? (Tom Lynch)

Keep it Short: Quickies! Reading Series is the fastest draw

Chicago Authors, Lit Events, Readings No Comments »

Mary Hamilton and Lindsay Hunter“That was a great warm-up, now you can start on the novel.” That’s what Mary Hamilton and Lindsay Hunter heard most often during their critiques in the writing program at the School of the Art Institute of Chicago. Ranging between one and three pages of text, flash fiction is among the shortest forms of fiction writing. Famous Chicago natives like Ernest Hemingway pushed it even further with his six-word story, “For sale: baby shoes, never worn,” which now ranks as the shortest piece of short fiction ever penned.

But what makes flash fiction different from other forms of fiction is not just length, but how the story itself builds up. “Flash fiction eliminates all the window-staring and gets down to the moment,” Hunter explains. “It’s easy to go on for pages, but it’s not easy to inhabit the moment where something is really happening. Flash fiction is like writing in the moment and being thrifty with the word choice.” It’s a common misconception for people to think that flash fiction is a sketch for a longer piece. “If you gave me ten stories I’d cut the last sentence out of nine of them at least.” The trick with flash fiction is that it “starts at the crest and ends at the climb,” Hunter adds. “Its not like getting on the roller coaster up to that never-ending climb where you’ve crested, you’ve looked how far the drop is and taken the plunge then unbuckled yourself from your seat. Flash fiction denies the drop.”

Hunter and Hamilton met in the writing program in what they describe as “love at first sight.” Read the rest of this entry »