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Friday, March 10, 2017

Chicago Stories

By: James T. Farrell (Selected and edited by Charles Fanning)

Publisher: University of Illinois Press (1998).

Softcover 296 pages.

Finished 3/9/17

Amazon Listing


          “Judge Henderson just didn’t have the time. The cases had to be disposed of. Tomorrow there would be the same number. The juvenile problem was insoluble. There was no settlement of it. The same boys were warned, but they were brought back. Parents were warned, but they were helpless. There was nothing to do but rush through from case to case, let off so many, put so many on probation, send so many to the Detention Home. Day after day this must go on. The law must be upheld. There was no time for her to delay, study, probe into the causes of these delinquencies. All she could do was reach out and try, and hope that a few boys would be recused from crime, and a few girls from the life a prostitute. That was what she did. Lectures, warnings, scoldings, questions, sentences. Next. Next. Next. All morning. Next. All afternoon. Next. Tomorrow. More. Next.”  
          A collection of short stories, taken from ten separately published collections, by the great James T. Farrell of Studs Lonnigan fame. The authors gives us various slices of life for the working class Irish in Old Chicago from around 1920s to the late 1940s.
James T. Farrell
          The generation he’s writing about here was my grandparents, all of whom were old-school Irish (or very near), so this takes me back to the attitudes, thoughts, discussions, and worries of the my youth. The characters all feel very real and, from what I’ve gathered, plucked from the author’s own past. He is able to capture with believably the ravages of old age, the anxiety of teens, the depressions of middle age, and the emotional turbulence of youth. He is able to highlight the rich and poor with equal sympathy (or lack thereof when appropriate), and as such not one character rings false. Each seems a living, breathing, thinking, entity unto themselves.
          What always struck me about Farrell’s work, apart from the realistic characters, was the attention to minor detail of the world around him. His characters or narrator will causally mention some larger problem happening in the city at the time of the story, and a google search shows that something like that was going on in Chicago.
          This is an old fashioned view of the world from a time when it was acceptable to chase blacks out of parks deemed “whites only”. And while Farrell occasionally editorializes the content, often it is presented unemotionally and without comment. This is how is was, this is how it is. From the workhouses, to the pool halls, to the churches, to the row houses, to the elegant apartments. The priests, the professors, the gamblers, the bums, the working stiffs, the employers, the middle men, the union men, the lovers, and the haters. Without emotion, nostalgia, or regret. The Irish Chicago of the past. Enjoy.

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