rev. of The Coast of Chicago by Stuart Dybek

Issue #54
Spring 1991

Readers of literary magazines and anthologies frequently speak of Stuart Dybek's stories with reverence, and they will certainly covet
The Coast of Chicago, his second collection, which brings together several works already deemed classics: "Hot Ice," "Blight," and "Pet Milk." Seven long stories are interleaved with seven shorter ones, and they are bound so tightly by place and theme, the book merits, for once, the flap-copy comparisons to Anderson's
Winesburg, Ohio and Joyce's

Dybek's style often shifts from a gritty realism befitting the Chicago's South Side to metafictional techniques which transform images into reverie, the tangible into the mythic. Nothing could be more appropriate, since this is a book about trying to bridge polarities: the past and future, tradition and assimilation, hopelessness and joy, night and day. In stories about coming of age in the 1950s and '60s, the characters Slavic, Hispanic, Greek watch their neighborhoods disappear in the sweep of urban renewal, and, "at times, walking past the gaps, they felt as if they were no longer quite there themselves, half-lost despite familiar street signs, shadows of themselves superimposed on the present, except there was no present everything either rubbled past or promised future and they were walking as if floating, getting nowhere." This motif of being lost is insistent in the more contemporary stories as well, insomniacs and lovers sleepwalking through rainy nights, sitting in diners
like the one painted in Edward Hopper's famous
Nighthawks, an explicit inspiration for Dybek.

For a variety of reasons, all the characters in
The Coast of Chicago find themselves to be, like their parents. DPs, Displaced Persons. The onus is on Dybek, then, to evoke and preserve memories of the tenements, the bars, and the El, the smell of "frying burgers, pizza parlors, the commeal and hot-oil blast of
taquerías," and, most of all, the people who defined the neighborhoods. Dybek succeeds gloriously.      –
Don Lee