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"...it isn’t so much a city as it is a vasty way station..."

Perhaps the most frequently quoted passage in Nelson Algren's Chicago: City on the Make is this one:

Yet once you’ve come to be part of this particular patch, you’ll never love another. Like loving a woman with a broken nose, you may well find lovelier lovelies. But never a lovely so real.

Certainly a memorable quote. Yet it is immediately preceded by this:

You can live your whole life out somewhere between Goose Island and Bronzeville without once feeling that, the week after you move, the neighbors are going to miss your place. For it isn’t so much a city as it is a vasty way station where three and a half million bipeds swarm with the single cry, "One side or a leg off, I’m gettin’ mine!" It’s every man for himself in this hired air.

That attitude - of the disconnected and indifferent nature of city residents - has been with me throughout the writing of my current story collection, Marshland. Most of my characters are loners, and though I greatly admire unified story cycles like Sherwood Anderson's Winesburg, Ohio, I didn't even try for such a thing with my book. Each story is set in a different Chicago neighborhood, from West Pullman to Rogers Park, Garfield Ridge to Austin to Dunning, and the characters in each story don't cross paths with characters in any other story, with very few of them even setting foot outside of their immediate neighborhood. And even within those tight confines, few have neighbors who will miss their place the week after they move.

September 27, 2011 in Books, Fiction, Marshland | Permalink


My brother lives in Rogers Park.

Posted by: Paul at Sep 27, 2011 3:18:29 PM

I hope that one day he reads the story, and it rings true with him - though the neighborhood isn't really that critical to the story, which is almost completely interior in setting.

Posted by: Pete at Sep 28, 2011 1:55:51 PM