The Instructions, by Adam Levin. The novel is about a 10-year-old Jewish kid who thinks he might be the Messiah. It also takes place in Chicago, which, as a Chicagoan myself, got me thinking about other novels I've read set in the Windy City. I had to think hard, because there aren't many — at least when compared with the number of novels set in New York (which I posted about back in May). Wonder why that is? (I'm being sarcastic. I know why it is: New York novelists write about New York. It's the same reason why there are so many novels about writers: When writers are out of ideas, they write novels about writers. It's what they know. So, hold the jokes about Chicago's corrupt politics, terrible traffic and awful weather...those aren't responsible for the dearth of Chicago novels. Well, they're probably not responsible.)
Anyway, let's take a look at five novels I've read and enjoyed that call the City of Broad Shoulders home:
5. The Instructions, by Adam Levin — I'm on page 651 of this huge book and cannot wait to finish and tell you about the precise reasons why you should read it too. It is really, really good. Chicago, its suburbs, and its public transportation all have supporting roles in Levin's debut novel. Levin is a Chicagoan himself — he teaches creative writing at Chicago's Columbia College.
4. Generosity: An Enhancement, by Richard Powers — Speaking of Columbia College, this novel examines an Algerian immigrant, who is a student at a thinly veiled fictional version of that small school. She is preternaturally happy all the time and therefore becomes the subject of much scrutiny. Characters in the novel whisk around the city on the 'El' and visit Chicago's many, many, many bars. Regarding the novel, normally I like Powers' combination of fiction and science, but this one fell flat for me. But, as I wrote here, it was largely my own fault.
3. The Adventures of Augie March, by Saul Bellow — Beginning with its famous opening line, "I am an American, Chicago born — Chicago, that somber city...", Bellow's famous picaresque novel follows its protagonist through Chicago's lively streets during the 1920s and 30s. Augie's somewhat erratic moral compass makes this classic a fantastic read. One of my favorites!
Native Son, by Richard Wright — This is the tale of Bigger Thomas, a poor black man trying to make his way in the slums of the Chicago's South Side during the Great Depression. Beginning with the famous opening scene in which Bigger kills a black rat in his family's apartment, Bigger's life spirals into violence and despair, ending with a death sentence for killing (accidentally, or inevitably?) a white girl.
1. The Time Traveler's Wife, by Audrey Niffenegger — Of course, right? This much-loved novel (but very-much-less-loved movie) about the time-torn love between Henry and Clare is awash in Chicago landmarks — from the Field Museum to the Newberry Library to Grant Park. Niffenegger still lives in Chicago (I'm 99 percent certain I saw her at a restaurant not too long ago) and also teaches at Columbia College.
So what novels have you enjoyed with Chicago as their setting? Which ones did I miss here?
(And, if you're interested, here's a pretty comprehensive list from Chicago Magazine of Chicago novels. Frankly, I've never heard of most of these. But yeah, The Jungle, The Studs Lonigan Trilogy, Sister Carrie and Humboldt's Gift are probably pretty notable omissions from my list.)