From Publishers Weekly
Dybek's third work of fiction (his first in over 10 years, after the story collections Childhood and Other Neighborhoods and The Coast of Chicago) comprises 11 elegiac, interlocking stories narrated by Perry Katzek, a young Polish-American growing up on Chicago's racially diverse South Side in the 1950s and 1960s. Although it lacks the narrative momentum of a linear novel, the book offers a powerful, cumulative portrait of the lives of Perry, his family and the people in his neighborhood, where "it seemed that almost every day someone lost teeth at one or another of the corner bars." "Breasts" follows three men with only tenuous connections to Perry, including Joey Ditto, a gangster who keeps getting distracted from making a ruthless hit by the ethereal forms of past lovers. "Blue Boy," which begins as a tale about a sick youngster, ends as a gorgeous contemplation of loss. The strongest stories deal directly with Perry's exploits. In "Orchids," Perry and his friend Stosh try to scheme their way to Mexico by stealing exotic orchids, and in the much-anthologized "We Didn't," Perry and his girlfriend's erotic lakeshore tumbling ("Swimsuits at our ankles, we kicked like swimmers to free our legs") is interrupted by the discovery of a dead body. "I was the D. H. Lawrence of not doing it," Perry reflects, "the voice of all would-be lovers who ached and squirmed." Indeed, all of these beautifully written stories teem with aching recollections. They are lyrical odes to wasted lives, youthful desires, vanishing innocence and the transformative power of memory, which is "the channel by which the past conducts its powerful energy; it's how the past continues to love."
Copyright 2003 Reed Business Information, Inc.
*Starred Review* Whenever Perry Katzek's much loved Uncle Lefty takes him up on the roof of his building to see the pigeon coop and the great grid of Chicago, he says, "Welcome to Dreamsville," which could serve as an alternative title for this magical suite of linked stories. In his first book since the unforgettable Coast of Chicago
(1990), Dybek writes of his hometown with the poignant realism of Henry Roth, the mythic intensity of Leon Forrest, and the poetic otherworldliness of Gabriel Garcia Marquez. Eleven perfectly formed and exquisitely sensual tales--each so saturated with personality, event, and revelation they feel like novels--illuminate transforming moments in Perry's life. Imaginative, adventurous, and romantic, Perry falls in love and loses loved ones, witnesses violence and experiences transcendence, while Dybek masterfully and tenderly conjures the edgy ambience of Chicago's ethnic neighborhoods and the great divide between the bucolic North Side and the broken-glass-strewn, tavern-spiked industrial South Side, where bravado, musical gifts, and witty repartee are highly valued. Set in a chimerical world of ice and flowers, soul-bruising hard work and sweet dreams, ruthless mobsters and die-hard friends, Dybek's mesmerizing tales coalesce into an epic of survival and spiritual growth that is, by turns, gritty, surreal, hilarious, tragic, and bittersweet. Donna SeamanCopyright © American Library Association. All rights reserved