John McNally’s collection of Chicago ghosts
The Chicago-raised author of “The Book of Ralph,” John McNally, goes ghost-hunting in his new short-story collection, titled, tellingly, “Ghosts of Chicago,” a blend of fictional stories that incorporates long-gone famous Chicagoans, from Walter Payton to old man Daley to Nelson Algren and beyond. Between the spaces, McNally’s filled in stories of the everyday Chicagoan; these are more than just the travails of the dead—the nature of love, family bonds and loss all haunt these streets as well. McNally’s wit always comes at you unexpectedly—Gene Siskel mocking Roger Ebert in a movie theater doesn’t seem beyond the realm of possibility—but the subtle sadness of each story’s texture, the ache of emptiness, makes the final impression. “Ghosts of Chicago,” a fine assemblage, reminds us of what we’re missing.
With the seemingly limitless possibilities of employing deceased celebrities, it’s interesting McNally even bothered creating entirely fictional characters. “The book began with everyday stories,” he says, over the phone from his office in North Carolina, where he teaches at Wake Forest. “Thematically, [there was] the sort of sense of using the ghost as a metaphor—people missing from other people’s lives, people haunted by those who are gone. I think since the [idea to use real] Chicago people came later—that’s why I ended up doing it that way.”
He says the Chicago luminaries he chose—who also include railroad mogul George Pullman and “Garfield Goose and Friends” host Frazier Thomas—were either those that had some personal impact on him during his formative years, or who just simply interested him enough to write a short story with them as the subject. “I think in some cases, it was people I had some sort of connection to,” he says. “Frazier Thomas was one of those figures from childhood, an enigmatic guy, a pretty unlikely host of a children’s talk show. He never seemed particularly warm. He just intrigued me, as a character I wanted to write about. As far as the others, they played or were a part of my personal history. Like Walter Payton—that moment of The Fridge carrying him into the end zone—that stuck with me.” (Tom Lynch)
“Ghost of Chicago” will be released in October by Jefferson Press. McNally discusses the book October 16 at Book Cellar.
“Demons in the Spring,” by Joe Meno
Each short story in the new collection by local author of “Hairstyles of the Damned” Joe Meno is accompanied by an illustration from predominant artists from the graphic or comic-book fields, including Ivan Brunetti, Anders Nilsen and Jay Ryan. Meno reads from his collection, along with Anders Nilsen, September 25 at Quimby’s.
“Crime,” by Irvine Welsh
The “Trainspotting” author returns with a heaping pile of underbelly and Scottish wit, this time sending a down-and-out detective to Florida on vacation, where he’ll get all mixed up in a new crime. Welsh talks “Crime” at the Read Against the Recession event, September 14 at Metro.
“Indignation,” by Philip Roth
The American treasure, author of “Exit Ghost” and “American Pastoral,” returns with another apparent knockout, this time focusing on Cold War-era sexuality and male responsibility. Release date: September 16.
Chicago Humanities Festival 2008
This year’s festival takes the theme “Thinking Big,” and as always, features dozens of events, performances, workshops and lectures, including a talk by author Colson Whitehead, titled “The Art of Writing and How to Write.” Events for the Chicago Humanities Festival begin October 3 and run through November 16. Visit chfestival.org for more info.