Sunday, October 25, 2009

Chicago: City on the Make

I've spent my entire life in Chicago, and after reading Algren's Chicago: City on the Make I feel as if though I've been living on another planet. Before I picked up the book, I felt like an expert on this city; however, after being bombarded with so many lists of names, phrases and events I've never heard of, I feel like I have to reexamine my station in Chicago, and, more importantly, Chicago's station in society.

Although Algren's prose is lyrical and beautifully written, I interpreted it as a riddle whose answer floated just outside my grasp. The notes at the back of the book helped me understand things a little better, but I got hung up on having to flip back-and-forth every couple of sentences. It's easy for me to see why it received so much criticism. Algren's tone is faced-paced and ambiguous; he rants for pages and pages about how awful Chicago is and then and goes off in another direction and says something like, you can never leave "without forever feeling something priceless is being left behind." One theme throughout Chicago: City on the Make that was not lost on me, however, was Algren's anguish over the city's failure to meet its full potential. For example, Algren writes, "Out of the Twisted Twenties flowered the promise of Chicago as the homeland and heartland of an American renaissance... Thirty years later we stand on the rim of a cultural Sahara with not a camel in sight... It has had its big chance, and fluffed it." I read those words and it was like rubbing salt in an open wound. Today, the city is still reeling from having its hopes dashed by lesser rivals, such as Rio and a team from Cinncinati lead by a man whose last name is a number for crying out loud. Although Chicago may never fulfill the lofty dreams and aspirations of insatiable inhabitants, Algren reminds us that loving Chicago is "Like loving a woman with a broken nose, you may well find lovelier lovelies. But never a lovely so real."

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