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The Wagon and Other Stories from the City (Chicago Visions and Revisions) [Hardcover]

by Martin Preib
3.3 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (32 customer reviews)

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Book Description

May 15, 2010 0226679802 978-0226679808 First Edition

Martin Preib is an officer in the Chicago Police Department—a beat cop whose first assignment as a rookie policeman was working on the wagon that picks up the dead. Inspired by Preib’s daily life on the job, The Wagon and Other Stories from the City chronicles the outer and inner lives of both a Chicago cop and the city itself.

The book follows Preib as he transports body bags, forges an unlikely connection with his female partner, trains a younger officer, and finds himself among people long forgotten—or rendered invisible—by the rest of society. Preib recounts how he navigates the tenuous labyrinths of race and class in the urban metropolis, such as a domestic disturbance call involving a gang member and his abused girlfriend or a run-in with a group of drunk yuppies. As he encounters the real and imagined geographies of Chicago, the city reveals itself to be not just a backdrop, but a central force in his narrative of life and death. Preib’s accounts, all told in his breathtaking prose, come alive in ways that readers will long remember.

Frequently Bought Together

The Wagon and Other Stories from the City (Chicago Visions and Revisions) + Crooked City + Chicago Cop: Tales From the Street
Price for all three: $48.06

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Editorial Reviews

From Publishers Weekly

In this reflective essay collection, writer and police officer Prieb recounts, at the age of 40, a life of honest work and literary aspiration in Chicago. The title refers to the police wagon that hauls bodies to the city morgue, a shift he worked as part of his rookie indoctrination, leading naturally to contemplation of death and life in the city. Verging on the self-conscious, Prieb nonetheless renders a variety of very personal city stories with gritty, hands-on honesty and poetic insight; Prieb explains to his partner how writers like Whitman and Melville used "their dark labor"-serving in field hospitals and on whaling ships-as a "means of seeing clearly," forcing them "to acknowledge things as they were." Ultimately, he argues, it's "better to be annihilated by something compelling than to be self-satisfied." Prieb's interaction with gang members is fascinating, and he showcases the softer side of a veteran cop in a lovely nursing home vignette. Appealing and strange, this is a fine meditation on life in and of the big city.
Copyright © Reed Business Information, a division of Reed Elsevier Inc. All rights reserved.


“Martin Preib worked as a bartender, a hotel doorman, a lowest-level cop (carrying out the dead). He filled his dresser drawers and his pockets and the patrol cars he drove with his scribblings, looking for his own form, his own voice. He believed he failed and he punished himself, but he kept on and the writing grew weightier, like the dead when they grow holy and sink into the earth. His language and thought escalated, he found a voice, and those fragments of street talk and cop-think took shape as comic or ugly but true stories of what Chicago does to its people. Now this indestructible writer has fused his stories into a remarkable first book—an essay that is a memoir, and also something else that is very like a prayer.”

(William Kennedy, author of Ironweed 2010-01-10)

“Chicago cop Martin Preib is Exhibit A for the dictum that nobody can write about a cop’s life the way a cop can. And very few can write any kind of nonfiction with the startling directness and poetry that Preib brings to this memoir-in-progress. Preib has been with the Chicago Police Department, working in the 24th District, the most diverse community in the city, for five years. He works the wagon, a job that the police union will soon make extinct. A wagon man retrieves and transports the dead to the morgue; it’s considered both the lowliest and the most challenging job on the police force. Preib lifts this task to the level of moral philosophy: he shows us around various death scenes, pointing out how the accumulation of collection letters or platoons of pill bottles are part of the “narrative of death.” He talks about how an experienced wagon man can feel or see the dead weight in people still alive but sliding, and he wonders what started the slide. He infuses poetry, in an entirely natural way, into his work with the dead. The dead are personified; he speaks of them as if they have will and intent (especially intent to end up in bathtubs, on floors, or in basements, all low places). He sees the dead as a Greek chorus, speaking to the living and forcing us to size up the themes in our own lives (as he does himself throughout the book). Preib may wheel his wagon to some very low places, but in doing so, he opens up the world.”

(Booklist (starred review) 2010-04-01)

“[The Wagon is] about the real Chicago, the city of tribes, the city many of you know, not that fictional metropolis sometimes offered in magazines and TV shows. . . . So there are no blondes in red dresses. No detectives with cleft chins. It hooked me right there. And if there's a hero, the hero is an intelligent man trying to figure things out.”

(John Kass Chicago Tribune 2010-03-07)

"The book is anchored by ‘The Wagon,’ the piece honored by the Virginia Quarterly Review as one of the best essays published on its pages in 2005. In it, Preib details his work on the vehicle the CPD uses to pick up dead bodies. It seems incongruous to describe such a gut-wrenching story as gorgeous, but gorgeous it is; Preib's musings on the recently, often ignominiously departed are particularly affecting, with flashes of morbid humor for relief. Other trenchant essays touch on the trials of police work, his years as a doorman and a union organizer, his hitchhiking escapades as a young man, and his observations of Chicago. One thing's for sure: Preib isn't a cop moonlighting as a writer. He's a writer who happens to work as a cop."—Jerome Ludwig, Chicago Reader

(Jerome Ludwig Chicago Reader 2010-04-22)

"The darkness pervading the title essay of Martin Preib’s new collection of stories, The Wagon and Other Tales From the City, is rooted in an exploration of death and loneliness seen through the eyes of a writer who is also a Chicago police officer assigned to haul dead bodies to the morgue. The essay . . . lends a lyrical voice to the grimmest angles of Chicago, the harsher world that police officers see every day."

(Chicago Tribune 2010-04-23)

“Police thrillers are so widely read and police dramas so commonplace on television that many people think they have a good understanding of what a cop’s world is like. But in truth that world is seldom revealed with anything approaching verisimilitude. We get it with The Wagon.”

(Daniel Horan Wall Street Journal 2010-05-11)

"Martin Preib, now a 46-year-old, eight-year veteran of the Chicago Police Department, does not invoke force of law for compliance, rather a powerful force of language developed over a lifetime of studying classical literature and Greek — but few writing classes."
(Jeff Johnson Chicago Sun-Times 2010-06-07)

"Preib’s is a voice that has almost never been heard in American writing: not merely the voice of an ordinary policeman, which is rare enough, but the voice of someone whose working life has been spent in the service industry. . . . For [Preib], ‘there is a kind of faith that lingers in realism, a belief that knowing the city will lead somewhere beyond the city.’ He has justified and realized that faith in The Wagon, a quite remarkable book that is much larger than its slender dimensions."

(Jonathan Yardley Washington Post 2010-06-13)

"Preib’s been around. He knows writing—and he knows the city’s darkest corners. . . . Preib is a promising writer, someone who we’ll undoubtedly hear from again, someone we need to hear from again. I for one will read whatever he writes next."
(Alex Kotlowitz Barnes & Noble Review 2010-07-08)

“The depiction of what it is really like to be a cop - in all its sadly hilarious glory - is what makes this book work so well.”

(Sarah Weinman Confessions of an Idiosyncratic Mind 2010-12-17)

“From its aptly noirish title on, Martin Preib’s The Wagon has rightness of authenticity about it. From the perspective of a cop he fashions a compelling view of the Chicago Algren once called ‘the dark city.’ There’s a unique quality to his essays which manage to be broodingly meditative even as their narrative drive keeps you turning pages.”

(Stuart Dybek, author of I Sailed with Magellan 2009-10-08)

Product Details

  • Series: Chicago Visions and Revisions
  • Hardcover: 176 pages
  • Publisher: University Of Chicago Press; First Edition edition (May 15, 2010)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0226679802
  • ISBN-13: 978-0226679808
  • Product Dimensions: 8.7 x 6.6 x 0.7 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 12 ounces (View shipping rates and policies)
  • Average Customer Review: 3.3 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (32 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #827,479 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

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Customer Reviews

Most Helpful Customer Reviews
14 of 14 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars A cut above most cop books April 13, 2010
Format:Hardcover|Verified Purchase
Just finished reading "The Wagon" by Chicago Police Officer Martin Preib. It is indeed an unusual book. Most definitely a memoir... not presented chronologically, but neatly dovetailed together into a most interesting life narrative.

I find his writing ebbs and wanes throughout the book, from introspective, philosophical and metaphorical to straight forward "cop story" sections that would be more typical of what one might expect from a cop on the street. A byproduct no doubt of the book being written in sections over a long time period. Never-the-less, overall, I find it to be an exceptional book, one of the few that I will re-read very shortly to gain a keener insight into his meaning, or he terms it, his "form." I have a habit of reading myself to sleep at the end of the day and this book requires a more alert, brighter mind.

It is not just another cop book. I think it is head and shoulders above that. Only 164 pages, but not what I would call a quick read. Pay attention, there's a lot to think about buried in those pages.

An earlier version of Chapter Two was previously published in the Virginia Quarterly Review in the summer of 2005. It is a good preview of the book. The link is below.

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10 of 11 people found the following review helpful
Dear Officer Preib,
I would like to commend you for your book and wanted to encourage you to continue your dream and passion of writing!
You were able to articulate many of the feelings that I share about Chicago. Born and raised; my father a Chicago Police officer, and I grew up hanging out playing softball with them all at Grant Park... only after getting married to my husband, who is a firefighter, did we move to Mount Prospect about 10 years ago. It's close enough to drive to the city every day - but it sure seems like another planet sometimes. (We live in an orderly neighborhood, on a cul-de-sac, filled with old folks obsessed with perfecting their lawns. After reading your book, I asked my husband if he missed alleys... he thought I was nuts. The missing alleys seem to remind me the most of how different our lives are now, however odd that sounds.) I clearly remember as a child being mesmerized by the sheer, overwhelming beauty of snowflakes drifting through the light of a streetlamp in a rare quiet moment along Melvina Avenue. And many summer nights walking up and down Montrose Avenue, restless, wondering about the stories of each building and person I passed. Who were these people, what are the stories of their lives? The ever present murmur of traffic from living off Montrose - comforting, yet obnoxious and intrusive at the same time. For years I took the el downtown to college and never lost the amazement of certain moments - smells, strands of music from the street musicians, the beauty of pigeons taking flight through a shaft of sunlight falling between the dirty, grimy buildings.
Read more ›
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4 of 4 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Exceptional, Moving & Honest May 11, 2010
By FiveOh
Format:Kindle Edition
Preib writes with an authenticity few writers could bring to this task. Hands down, this is one of the best inside looks at policing you'll find. The nice bonus is that Preib is a truly gifted writer. I hope this is the first of many books from him.
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6 of 7 people found the following review helpful
I met Martin Preib casually nearly two years ago and perceived him to be quite the passionate thinker. Such an unassuming and remarkable mind... That being said, this book completely blew my expectations away. Preib patiently takes his time in depicting the real midwest in this semi-memoir piece. Yet it is also an important read for police skeptics and supporters alike. Read it, and then read it again.
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3 of 3 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars beautifully written Chicago cop story October 25, 2013
Format:Kindle Edition|Verified Purchase
The author, a long-time hotel doorman and, more recently, a Chicago cop, writes beautifully about working in the city of Chicago, in the gritty, real side of the city. He works the wagon, removing dead bodies to the morgue, reflecting on death and life. At other times, he trains younger cops or complains about the ever-present squad car cameras.

A quick read but so wonderfully written that the reader won't soon forget some of his stories.
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3 of 3 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Brilliant memoir August 28, 2013
Format:Hardcover|Verified Purchase
I teach memoir writing and this is a book I highly recommend as an example of a creative and beautifully written memoir. I'm astounded at the low price--grab it! It's an intimate look at the work of a street cop from a police officer who has the soul of a poet and the mind of a philosopher. Really well done and I'm eager to read more of Preib's work.
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2 of 2 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Good read December 29, 2013
Format:Hardcover|Verified Purchase
Not the usual tales from big city police. This is more intellectual and therefore a much more rewarding read for the intelligent reader. Liked it a lot.
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2 of 2 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars The Wagon May 4, 2011
By mjbros
Format:Hardcover|Verified Purchase
This is an extraordinarily well-written book. Many police-related books are written by cops/former cops who decide to try their hand at writing. This is written by a writer who became a cop. The richness and depth of the prose is rarely seen in this genre.
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Most Recent Customer Reviews
5.0 out of 5 stars Back on Patrol…..
Captured the job perfectly. Glad I am retired and watching from afar. Maybe this book will open some eyes and minds.
Published 9 days ago by G. Bernacki
5.0 out of 5 stars New favorite Author!!
This book was spellbinding and compelling. I loved how easy it was to share Mr Preib’s journeys – not unlike a CPD ride-along or hitchhiker’s adventure. Read more
Published 26 days ago by RoseS
4.0 out of 5 stars Interesting Insight on Being a Cop
The stories are very interesting and show the day to day thoughts of a Chicago cop assigned to both the "Wagon", which picks up dead bodies, and the streets of the city. Read more
Published 2 months ago by Dr. R.P. Forsberg
3.0 out of 5 stars Not What I Expected
Too philosophical. The few cop and doorman stories were ok. But every cop must have a book of great stories to tell.
Published 7 months ago by Don W.
3.0 out of 5 stars Slow start
I had high hopes for this book as a read one that was similiar to it previously. I was somewhat disappointed in the slow start to this book. Read more
Published 9 months ago by Amazon Customer
1.0 out of 5 stars Not that good
The author seemed to be way too self-centered. Had to force myself to finish this book. Continued to plow through book, in hopes it would get better, it did not.
Published 9 months ago by FTO
2.0 out of 5 stars **
The author projects a disdain for his job along with a superiority complex over those he works with and the public he serves. Read more
Published 10 months ago by James E. Joyce
2.0 out of 5 stars Personal narrative not holding attention.
Personal narrative not told in most readable manner. Perhaps the subject matter was not what I expected. Read more
Published 14 months ago by Claire Walker
2.0 out of 5 stars Typical cop story
This is a story book of typical calls seen everyday by to locals, not much new or exciting in this book.
Published 15 months ago by Willard F Staar
4.0 out of 5 stars I like it
I choose this rating because it was an all-right book. The book have good scenes, but the ending was not that good.
Published 15 months ago by DEC
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