Review: North and Central by Bob Hartley

34748200We had a Zenith television when I was a kid. It was big, bigger than me. When we wanted to change the channel, we had to get up and turn the dial. When the plastic dial broke, or at least the part that connected it to the channel mechanism on the TV, then we superglued the broken bit of plastic back together. We used the dial until it broke, again. We superglued it again. This kept going on until the plastic dial couldn’t be repaired anymore. Then we just risked cutting our fingers against the sharp-edged plastic of the now-exposed channel changing mechanism. We pressed our fingers against it, twisted our wrists and changed the channel. There were only 13 stops on the dial, and only four stations: ABC, CBS, NBC, and PBS, so it wasn’t that big of a deal. We made do and we kept that TV long after friends started to buy Sony Trinitrons. Eventually, we got something from Panasonic.

Bob Hartley’s second novel, North and Central (Tortoise Books, 240 pages, $16), is set in a Chicago bar whose clientele consisted mostly of Zenith factory workers and who, no doubt, would mock my use of “clientele” to describe them. “Drinkers,” perhaps, is better? “Strugglers,” perhaps, too, as Zenith is on the decline due to competition from Japan—the entire neighborhood is rough shape. Another name for those workers could be “Trump voters,” which is more about when I read the book than when it was written or its setting a few decades ago in the 1970s.

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Review: Following Tommy by Bob Hartley

15826921 Following Tommy by Bob Hartley is a gem of a book: hard, brilliant and valuable.

It tells the story of Jacky O’Day, a bookish teen who lives in a changing Irish neighborhood in 1962 Chicago with an alcoholic father and a troubled older brother, Tommy. All of them live in the devastating aftermath of the early death of the woman in their life, the clear-headed mother and wife who had kept the three on the straight and narrow.

Without her, Jacky follows Tommy into his forays of petty crimes, as if that is the only viable path through their hardscrabble world. When Tommy’s crimes grow more violent, though, Jacky begins to question their relationship and himself.

Hartley delves into questions of identity and race, and offers a dramatic portrait of how a specific kind of Chicago neighborhood operates, with and against the law.

Through it all, Hartley’s clear, concise prose remains unflinching and cutting at times.

The slim volume from the independent publisher Cervena Barva Press is highly recommended.

2017 in Review in Publishing

Thank you goes out to all the readers out there who’ve read my stuff, and to the editors and publisher who put my poetry and fiction out there for the world to read. Continue reading “2017 in Review in Publishing”

Lincoln in the Bardo and the impossible audiobook

audiobook_ilOn paper, it sounds like something magnificent: master short-story writer George Saunders’s very first novel! An examination of a moment in the life of America’s greatest president!

As Penguin Random House says:

George Saunders spins an unforgettable story of familial love and loss that breaks free of its realistic, historical framework into a supernatural realm both hilarious and terrifying. Willie Lincoln finds himself in a strange purgatory where ghosts mingle, gripe, commiserate, quarrel, and enact bizarre acts of penance. Within this transitional state—called, in the Tibetan tradition, the bardo—a monumental struggle erupts over young Willie’s soul.

And then there’s the audiobook: 166 characters! 166 voices!

“The first truly blockbuster audiobook? …  it’s going to be incredible”

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I just pre-ordered Chuck Kinder’s Silver Ghost

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Outlaw. Writer. Professor.

Chuck Kinder was my professor at the University of Pittsburgh’s MFA program. Like many of his students, I benefited greatly from his imaginative approach to writing, the often imaginative worlds opened up by his constant question: “What if?”

In an exciting turn of events, his 1978 novel “The Silver Ghost” is coming back into print through the work of Braddock Avenue Books where one of the publishers just so happens to be another one of Chuck Kinder’s former students, Jeffrey Condon.

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