If loving Chicago is like loving a woman with a broken nose, as Nelson Algren famously wrote, then January is the time when the bandages come off and we discover that the bones didn't set quite right. Another humiliating Bears season has finally, mercifully come to an end just as yet another arctic winter ramps up, marooning us in our houses with folding chairs protecting our parking spots and Rahm reelection ads inundating our televisions.
But even in the doldrums of winter there are bright spots. Jimmy Butler. Restaurant Week. And, my personal favorite, the Reader's annual Fiction Issue. In a city that prides itself on its fierce literary scene, a scene that either because of geography or disposition exists squarely apart from the MFA vs. NYC dichotomy, this annual showcase of local talent has meant a great deal to many Chicago writers throughout its 15-year history. This one included: in the 2010 issue, the Reader published a short story of mine, "The Carnival at Bray," that would become the first chapter of my recently published novel of the same name. (I was lucky enough to get a second story, "Teen Jeopardy," in the 2012 issue.)
If this year's three pieces have a common thread, it's that each contains a strong sense of place, one that recognizes the unexpected beauty to be found in this broken-nosed city. In "Migration," Latoya Wolfe (another writer twice published in the Fiction Issue, in '03 and '08) takes us into the now wiped-out world of the Robert Taylor Homes, which once "marched up and down State Street from 39th to 54th . . . their windows, like millions of eyes, watching," just as the wrecking ball comes down. Kevin Leahy's "Salvage" captures the particular adolescent joy of finding weird junk in an alley, coupled with the particular pain of a slightly older sibling growing distant. Finally, in Cyn Vargas's "Myrna's Dad," a run-in at a used-car lot forces a teenage girl to contemplate the morality of keeping secrets.
Get ready to hunker down and snuggle up with these stories. You'll be reminded why Algren once said, in a tone that I've always believed to be affectionate resignation, "Once you've become a part of this particular patch, you'll never love another." —Jessie Ann Foley
by Kevin Leahy
"Never has he been so disappointed to discover something so incredible."
by Latoya Wolfe
"There was a system to everything, and even if you didn't have all the details about what was happening, you understood enough, and it kept you alive."
by Cyn Vargas
"I never said a word about what I knew, only repeated 'I'm sorry' as she mourned for a father she never knew."