A Chicago book that holds special meaning to me
Jane Hamilton is a family friend, and so we have followed her writing career since her first published books. It hasn’t been a chore. Jane, who grew up in Oak Park, the first suburb directly west of Chicago, is one of America’s most gifted and skilled writers, and we (my wife and I) have loved every book and appreciated each for its brilliance and exceptionally high level of craft.
My favorite is The Short History of a Prince, both as a wonderful novel full of beautifully drawn characters, and as a great Chicago novel, for the city and its environs are lovingly rendered and expertly woven in and around the fabric of the story. Walter McCloud and his family live in the fictional suburb of Oak Ridge, based on Oak Park, located literally just across the street from Chicago itself, and through which runs a line of the CTA "L" rapid transit train system. Jane establishes the L as a key personality trait of the city, capturing perfectly the experience of riding the train from Oak Park, through the inner city, and on to Chicago’s downtown “Loop.”
But perhaps Jane’s best Chicago moment comes when she pens a brief ode to the Chicago alley. “The alley itself was the great divide, the place where the children spent the daylight hours …” and, horror of horrors, what kind of a Chicago town was the far western suburb of Schaumburg that had “driveways instead of alleys.” What Chicagoan who grew up in Oak Park, or Austin, or Edgewater, or Portage Park, or Chatham, or Riverdale, can’t relate to that sentiment?
This along with the L and a myriad of other lyrically described Chicago details, make The Short History of a Prince my favorite Chicago novel.