Jay Bonansinga | Theater Critic's Choice | Chicago Reader

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Jay Bonansinga


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There's no end to disaster in this world, a fact that has served Jay Bonansinga well. The Chicago writer has made a living churning out thrillers with titles like Sick and Head Case, but his latest book is a nonfiction account of the sinking of the steamship Eastland. On July 24, 1915, the docked boat was crammed with Western Electric employees and their families heading out on a company excursion when it heeled over onto its port side in the shallow Chicago River, killing 844 people. To this day the catastrophe accounts for the greatest loss of life in a single event in Chicago--more than the Great Fire or the Iroquois Theatre fire in 1903. And it seems so stupid, so mundane, so unlike the operatic tragedies of the Titanic and Lusitania--a true Chicago tale. In The Sinking of the Eastland: America's Forgotten Tragedy, Bonansinga dives into the story, churning up a wealth of detail about the many ordinary folks caught up in the accident and its aftermath (the last lawsuit was settled 20 years later). He says he hopes his book will stand as a "decent companion" to George Hilton's Eastland: Legacy of the Titanic, published in 1995, and if sometimes his novelistic approach to characters can seem coy, the story rests on solid research and is told with a real acknowledgment of the heartbreak of so many dead. Mon 12/13, 7 PM, Twilight Tales at Red Lion Pub, 2446 N. Lincoln, 773-348-2695, $4 donation requested.

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