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What It Means to Love You Hardcover – October 1, 2002

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Editorial Reviews

From Publishers Weekly

Blearily fatalistic and oddly elegiac, this second novel by Elliott (A Life Without Consequences) tells the story of two strippers and a call girl who roam grimy Halsted Street on Chicago's dark underside. Anthony, 34, still dances for a living, but is slowly losing his grip on street life as he grows older. Beautiful, unbalanced 27-year-old Lance has blue teardrops tattooed under his eyes to indicate how many men he has killed, but is helplessly in love with 17-year-old Brooke, who looks like a schoolgirl and secretly dreams of seducing the father she left behind in Michigan. Anthony observes Brooke and Lance's relationship from a distance while slowly becoming more enmeshed in their lives. As the novel builds to a climax, Lance teeters on the brink of madness, Anthony gradually begins to make a respectable life for himself and Brooke returns to Michigan to settle things with her father. The Chicago descriptions are grittily real, but the affectless present-tense prose ("Anthony looks up at Lance's smiling face. He knows Lance") grows monotonous. All Elliott's characters are cut off from their feelings, each of them a step away from disaster, and the story's conclusion is predictably brutal and unemotional. Elliott's history he has worked as a stripper himself and grew up in Chicago gives the novel the stamp of authenticity, but the listlessness of his characters keeps the narrative at a perpetual low ebb.
Copyright 2002 Reed Business Information, Inc.

From Booklist

Elliot's first novel, A Life without Consequences, explored lives of poverty and suffering on Chicago's South Side. In his second novel, Elliot turns to Halsted Street on Chicago's North Side, an affluent area with a dark underside. The story follows three sex workers: teenage prostitute Brooke; her stripper boyfriend, Lance; and Anthony, a thirtysomething, soon-to-be-washed-up stripper. When Brooke ends her relationship with Lance, he descends into acute homelessness and addiction, all the while believing that his only hope is the impossible: winning back Brooke. Anthony, meanwhile, struggles to escape the sex-worker life. These characters' love for one another, and for themselves, is marked by rape, murder, and exploitation. Elliot, who grew up homeless in Chicago, knows his material all too well, and at its best, this novel is terrifyingly real. It's too bad, though, that the dialogue is often overwrought and melodramatic. Still, the book lays bare the cold and dark reality of a place that is the "same as everywhere else, just worse." John Green
Copyright © American Library Association. All rights reserved

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Product Details

  • Hardcover: 145 pages
  • Publisher: MacAdam/Cage Publishing; 1st edition (October 1, 2002)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 1931561184
  • ISBN-13: 978-1931561181
  • Product Dimensions: 8.2 x 5.6 x 0.8 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 12.8 ounces
  • Average Customer Review: 4.7 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (9 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #1,575,488 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

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Most Helpful Customer Reviews

12 of 12 people found the following review helpful By Anna Klein on April 9, 2003
Format: Hardcover
The place: Halsted Street, Chicago. The people: Anthony, 34, a stripper. Lance, 27, also a stripper. And Brooke, Lance's 17-year-old girlfriend, a call girl. Both men appear on brightly lit stages at night, battling their fleeting youth while struggling to survive. Lance has been in prison (and he's a little bit mad). Lance has killed (see the blue teardrops tattooed under his eye). Anthony is also violent, but in a more subtle, internal way. As for Brooke ... she's a runaway but she still looks like the little girl she is (perhaps that's why she tries returning home). Although for a time the characters remain strangely detached from everything -- including, it often seems, each other -- as the story progresses they become more and more tangled, their relationship resulting in an ending as gritty as it is horrible.
Lance is at one point said to be "jagged and angry," and WHAT IT MEANS TO LOVE YOU could easily be described the same way. Stephen Elliott, a former male stripper writing about being a male stripper, is devastatingly accurate without stooping to sensationalism, creating (as in his earlier novel, A LIFE WITHOUT CONSEQUENCES) a story all too close to so many autobiographies of former foster children and street kids. This book is relentlessly dark, written in short, choppy sentences -- harsh, yet undeniably insightful. Perhaps the best paragraph comes when Brooke has finally succeeded in seducing her father: "The flowers watch the stuffed animals and the dresser watches the walls." While the style does grow monotonous (it could in no way be called "flowing"), it is also heavily loaded and very easy to read. I had some trouble deciding between four and five stars, but finally had to opt for four because, brilliant as this story is, the ending is still predictable.
Hard, bitter, angry, heartbreaking -- WHAT IT MEANS TO LOVE YOU is a solidly realistic account of inner city violence and despair from one of my favorite emerging authors.
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7 of 7 people found the following review helpful By C. Gall on October 30, 2002
Format: Hardcover
Out of the gates, I did not want to like this book. I'd paused reading another book to walk through the concrete gardens of WHAT IT MEANS TO LOVE YOU and I was unhappy. It's not like Elliott writes happy books or anything, don't get me wrong, I knew what I was getting myself into. It's just I drifted off the cheeky first person affection of the previous novel and landed in a scratchy, third-person, wool sweater: tight, hot, and digging into my skin. Then on page 9, it happens: "And sometimes just missing is worse than never having a chance at all." And that's how it is with Elliott. You're standing there cursing the wool sweater when the grey skies start dumping snow and everyone else shivers while you find wool is sometimes the only thing.
WIMTLY is the tale of three people whose lives intersect on the underside of Chicago's belly. While it stretches wide to cover all three characters, the true focus is Anthony, a stripper and cross section for the other two characters. To say anything more about the plot is just silly.
Elliott writes characters who never achieve redemption or garner sympathy but somehow emerge pristine and developed, saved by their trueness to form. If you've ever read a book and found somewhere mid-press a character doing or saying something stilted, you know what I'm talking about. This just never happens in WIMTLY. At those pivotal moments where melodrama could wash the color out of rainbow, Elliott's characters do and say only what people in such situations would, no matter how unpopular.
I liked Elliott's other books but neither of them have the maturity and poise of this novel. And if you don't want to read it for any other reason read it for this one, Elliott does this thing. There's no word for it. You won't find it chipping off shorts in a Lit class.
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5 of 5 people found the following review helpful By Robert C Eaman on February 25, 2003
Format: Hardcover
Steve is an old buddy of mine, and I write this having known the origins of some of his stories, a bit jaded. The plot has been described above, and that's good enough to go with. I'll add that his take and insider's view on Chicago's seedy underbelly is absolutely riveting, a Bukowski life told Mike Royko-esque (see "Boss").
Steve manages to get more out of his stories than most other authors I've read. WIMTLY is a book about action, things that happen, and it lets you draw your own conclusions. There are moments where you'd wish for more, but as you proceed through the book you see you're getting more, just not in the way you thought you'd see it. This book was--for me--easy to read, and difficult to put down. I bought it `cause I knew some of the stories ahead of time, and because I knew the author. I left the book feeling like I would have picked this up anyway, had I but known.
Steve gets into things you'd heard about somewhere but never had the guts or wherewithal to try yourself, takes you to the edge of that thing, and most often creeps right up into it, showing you the insider's view of it. Guts laid bare. Ups and downs and not time enough to digest it all. His characters fight for freedom from ennui, freedom from ugliness, and freedom from reality. And they don't shame themselves away from these pursuits.
A good piece of work. A fascinating story.
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Format: Hardcover
I have read Elliott's three other books about his life and growing up and love them all dearly, but I seem to like this one the most for its rawness and it has a poetic awkward flow to it in some of the chapters, this makes it different from his other books where there seems to to be an emotional disconnect. He is an excellent writer and you will fly through this book and crave more of his stories. He has a whole lot to say and will leave an imprint on your mind.
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