Author: Brian Doyle
Genre: Current Lit
Page Count: 305
Publication Date: March 2017
On a very hot day in August 2018, I moved into an apartment on the Northside of Chicago with a friend from college. She had already lived in the city for a year and, by some twist of fate, was in desperate need of a roommate. I jumped at the chance to live in vast and vibrant CHI Town and haven’t looked back since. I’ve decided to make my book review for every August a book about Chicago to commemorate my Chicago anniversary, and luckily found Chicago by Brian Doyle a few weeks before the month started.
Doyle’s novel is a fictional memoir of his own time in the Second City and can only be described as a romance between a twenty-something journalist and the city of Chicago. His book depicts a life in an apartment building off of Broadway, between Belmont and Addison, during the late 70s/early 80s– before Boystown became Boystown. Most of the novel is a rose-colored depiction of his fling with the city and the colorful characters he became friends with along the way.
He speaks of a neighbor that makes empanadas so delicious I’m convinced she’s the woman that inspired Cafe Tola; a dog that is almost human; and a poetic ex-Navy man fascinated by President Lincoln. He plays basketball with gangsters and drug lords; scales skyscrapers just to get a better view of the city; and is as obsessed with the White Sox as I find myself this year– never entering Wrigley Field out of superstition. For a man that only allegedly spent a year in Chicago, Brian Doyle understands the city’s juxtaposition that has kept me enticed with this town even after three years.
This city encompasses East Coast urgency with Midwestern hospitality. There’s moments of feeling completely out of place and completely at home, simultaneously. You can go into a neighborhood and feel like you’ve left the city, even with the Willis Tower still in view. Chicago is mysterious and wonderful and keeps you on your toes always. And Doyle perfectly shows how Chicago is both giving and relentless– and quite easily the only city in the United States that has ever made me (or him) feel whole.
Doyle has a line in his book where he ponders if each person has a city that is somehow theirs and theirs alone– a city that forms us and becomes a part of us in a way no other place can. For some, it may be hard to believe that a collection of streets and buildings can be that powerful, but I think Doyle is on to something. It is clear that Doyle’s heart is etched with the sounds of Comiskey Park (now Guaranteed Rate Field), the tastes of Greek Town, and the bone-chilling gusts of Chicago winters.
I am so glad I found Doyle’s novel as it gave me a small glimpse into what it might feel like to someday leave. The idea of leaving Chicago haunts me every day but also, to a point, feels inevitable–not in the near future, but some day. Chicago has made me a stronger woman, helped me find the love of my life, and has led me to a career that gives me purpose. It’s a city that can give and take, but never leaves you, even if you leave it.
If you’ve ever lived in any part of Chicago, buy a copy of Doyle’s book. You’ll see the city come to life on each page. If you’re deciding on moving to or visiting Chicago, consider using it as an accurate guide to Chicagoness– Doyle’s term for what the city does to you when you let yourself become a part of it. He may not be a Chicagoan by blood, but it is clear that Doyle has a piece of Chicago in his soul.
You can purchase Chicago here if you are interested in reading. I will be reviewing Normal People by Sally Rooney for the month of September, which you can purchase here if you’d like to read along. The review will be up by the end of the month. Stay tuned for this month’s florilegium, coming out Sunday, September 5th.