Nelson Algren blew me away with his powerful poetic prose in Chicago: City on the Make. I expected it to be a novel, but it isn’t. It’s a prose poem essay that packs a lot of history and observation into very well written essays on the city. Written in the 6o’s, Chicago: City on the Make brought old Chicago, one that’s grittier and livelier to life. Algren’s Chicago was getting softened up, suburbanized almost when he wrote the book. Now downtown at least is like a lot of cities, though the neighborhoods are quite individual.
The book’s a must-read for people who know the city and want to learn more. The 50th Anniversary edition that I read has a lot of good annotations, but there were some references that weren’t covered that I had to use Bing to find.
Half-way through the book, I emailed a friend who teaches a unit on Chicago in her high school urging her to add at least a few chapters from the book to the class reading list.
Here are a few quotations from a book that’s full of great passages:
“Yet once you’ve come to be part of this particular patch, you’ll never love another. Like loving a woman with a broken nose, you may well find lovelier lovelies. But never a lovely so real.”
“…a city that was to live by night after the wilderness had passed. A city that was to forge out of steel and blood-red neon its own peculiar wilderness.”
“It’s the place built out of Man’s ceaseless failure to overcome himself. Out of Man’s endless war against himself we build our successes as well as our failures. Making it the city of all cities most like Man himself— loneliest creation of all this very old poor earth.”