I was disappointed that Bill Granger’s iconic novel, Time for Frankie Coolin, did not make it into the recently published Chicago by the Book: 101 Publications that Shaped the City and Its Image. Through the fictionalized trials and tribulations of Frankie, we better understand the interpersonal dynamics of the White Flight that dramatically changed Chicago’s demographics from 1960 to 1990, when Chicago lost 1,446,795 of its white residents.
Time for Frankie Coolin was first published in 1982 under the nom de plume Bill Griffith. Griffith was Granger’s mother’s maiden name. Granger was a hard-boiled Chicago journalist who wrote for three papers in 40 years. Well into his journalistic career, he started writing novels at a frenetic pace of about one a year; 25 in total. Public Murders and The November Man are probably his best known. Yet Time for Frankie Coolin remains his great Chicago novel.
In his Foreword to a new edition of the book in 2014, Bill Savage writes “Granger’s prose is simply outstanding, with dialogue that crackles and descriptive passages of the city and its landscapes that hearken back to Bellow, Algren, Farrell, Wright, and Sinclair.” I couldn’t agree more.
I invite you to join us at the Cliff Dwellers on Saturday morning June 22nd at 11:00 as we discuss Time for Frankie Coolin. The Cliff Dwellers is located at 200 S. Michigan, directly across the street from the Art Institute. The discussion is free and open to the public.
The next Emanuel Congregation author event on Tuesday evening, May 21 at 7:00 p.m. features Rosellen Brown, the distinguished author whose novels include Tender Mercies, Before and After and Civil Wars. Her stories have appeared in numerous literary publications including Best American Short Stories, Best Short Stories of the Century and the O. Henry Prize Stories.
She will discuss her most recent novel, The Lake on Fire, which superbly depicts the class and cultural tensions that were pervasive in Chicago just before, during and slightly after the Columbian Exposition of 1893. Worker discontent in the city was still simmering in the aftermath of the deadly clashes of the Battle of the Viaduct in 1877 and the Haymarket Affair of 1886. Economic conditions and labor strife were worsening because of the Panic of 1893, which soon led to a depression.
Ms. Brown embodies these tensions magnificently in the characters of Chaya-Libbe Shaderowsky and her younger brother Asher, and Gregory Stillman and his brother Ned. Chaya and Asher are Jews whose poor family had left Eastern Europe for a better life in America. Gregory and Ned are born with “a silver spoon in their mouths” and are part of Chicago’s economic and cultural elite. Yet the author brilliantly weaves a narrative spiced with romance, idealism, greed and violence where these four characters’ lives are inextricably connected with each other.
The teeming Maxwell Street Market surrounded by tenements and sweat shops come alive in this book. Asher’s gutsy escapades on the Midway during the Exposition keep the reader amazed and surprised. The inclusion of historical personages in the story, especially Jane Addams, is truly a delight. The Lake on Fire is a must read for any lover of Chicago historical fiction.
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The Caxton Club has produced a most amazing book, recently published by the University of Chicago Press, entitled Chicago by the Book: 101 Publications That Shaped the Image of Chicago. It is a must possession for a Chicago bibliophile. These publications include both fiction and non-fiction books, magazines and periodicals, and reports and digests. Each publication listed is accompanied by a short essay and at least one visual image from it.
Chicago has many images to the general public, some good; some bad; some ugly. As this book demonstrates, the written word has shaped many of these images. Among the good are publications such as Louis Sullivan’s A System of Architectural Ornament and Carl Condit’s The Chicago School of Architecture that make the case that Chicago has been an innovative leader in architectural design in the world. Twenty Years at Hull-House by Jane Addams and Rules for Radicals by Saul Alinsky allow us to see how Chicago has been a leader in the movement for social change in our nation. Bernard Sahlins’ Days and Nights at the Second City and David Mamet’s Sexual Perversity in Chicago and The Duck Variations have shown that Chicago has been in the forefront of the transformation of American theater.
Then there is the bad and ugly side of Chicago reflected in the institutional racism exposed in Richard Wright’s novel Native Son and the Chicago Commission on Race Relations report on The Negro in Chicago: A Study of Race Relations and a Race Riot. Chicago: Gang Wars in Pictures by Hal Andrews has reinforced the image of Chicago as a violent city in the eyes of the world.
Chicago by the Book is now available at your favorite book seller. Do yourself a favor and go out and buy it. You won’t be sorry.