Lots of us have lived in many places and have friends scattered far who we don’t see often, but when we do see them, it’s as if no time has passed. We pick up where we left off. That’s the feeling I got reading Patricia Ann McNair’s latest collection of essays and reminiscences on growing up, losing family members, travel, dancing, writing and sex, entitled “And These Are The Good Times.”
McNair is a Chicagoan who writes a lot about Chicago, but her experiences elsewhere—Vermont, Iowa, Prague, Cuba, Paris—give her a perspective that finds the relatable nuggets in the pan. There isn’t always an epiphany, but she explains her motivation and her constant, openhearted wonder at her place in this world in a steady, colloquial tone. Sometimes she’s drinking coffee with you, sometimes a piece is a finished travel postcard.
One of the most powerful pieces in the book is the eponymous entry about McNair’s dad, who died when she was fifteen. The youngest of six, and the only girl, she’d meet him at the local bar after he got off work when she was a ‘tween (a term that didn’t exist then) and dance in front of the jukebox while he knocked back bourbon and told jokes to anyone within earshot. Her dad came straight out of “Mad Men.”
Now, I’ve read plenty of “those were the days” pieces where the writer takes you on a tedious cab ride through “old” Chicago, pointing out the PNC bank that used to be a Gas For Less, the cell-phone store that used to be a disco, blah, blah, blah, and for what? In these pages, you can see the smoky dinge on the paneling, but McNair’s power is in her simple longing for her father to notice her dancing, her need to bask in the lighthouse beam of his attention that rarely shines on her the way she wants it to.
An associate professor of writing at Columbia College Chicago, McNair spends a big chunk of the book focused on what makes her write, her writer’s architecture. My favorite pieces, however, are the ones where she doesn’t invite you behind the curtain. (Kate Burns)
“And These Are The Good Times”
By Patricia Ann McNair
Side Street Press, 186 pages, $16.95
Patricia Ann McNair will be at Reading Under the Influence, October 4, 7pm, Sheffield’s Beer and Wine Garden, 3258 North Sheffield; with Sahar Mustafah, October 5, 6:30pm, City Lit Books, 2523 North Kedzie; and with David Trinidad, November 1, 7:30 pm, Women & Children First Bookstore, 5233 North Clark.
Kate Burns is a writer, musician and voiceover talent living in Chicago. Her voice haunted the elevator in her gynecologist’s building until by chance the practice moved. She taught preschool Spanish for three years and, like a bartender, grew to rely on the security of having a guitar, or a bar, between herself and the patrons. It’s only a matter of time before she succumbs to her family’s lobbying for a dog. You may see her walking this dog on Chicago’s wintry sidewalks with a leash in one mittened hand and a tissue in the other. She enjoys knitting rectangles in large font while binge-watching TV. She rues the fact that she hasn’t been to a movie in several adjacent seasons, but give her a book and she’s golden. She likes gardening. Plants are quiet. Her one and only child challenges her daily like the Mack truck of karma. Her favorite animals are seahorses and hummingbirds and her favorite food is popcorn. She decided on these as a teenager and hasn’t revised her opinions.