This blog will touch on the experiences I have as a writer (not to be mistaken for my experience as a writer, i.e. how many books I've written, etc); the pleasure and the pain, the joy and the grief, the satisfaction and the frustration, the magic and the reality - have I left anything out, oh yeah, the rejection, rejection and more rejection, the humiliation and the embarrassment, the jealousy and the resentment - that pretty much covers it, except for why I do it which perhaps I'll realize along the way. Are you totally confused? Good, let's begin.
Jean Thompson’s novel, City Boy, is not a big story. It’s what she does best, tell us about the everyday lives of people we know. It’s not a great love story, nor is it a tragedy except in the way that we interpret our lives and the lives of those we know.
Jack and Chloe are newlyweds living in Chicago. They are among “the entitled” – both only children from affluent families, university educated, young, good-looking, white.
They have plans, but life doesn’t care.
Early in the novel the reader begins to suspect disfunction. Chloe, is one of those people described in Chapter 5 of the Big Book, the Bible for Alcoholics Anonymous that are “constitutionally incapable of being honest with themselves. They are naturally incapable of grasping and developing a manner of living which demands rigorous honesty. Their chances are less than average.”
Yes, she’s an alcoholic, but not a falling down one – yet.
Her husband, Jack, the novel’s protagonist (he’s hardly heroic) and from whose point of view the story is told, is not so much an enabler as a dreamer. He’s a study in weakness and delusion.
Jack wants to be a writer, but rather than do it after work like the rest of us, it’s decided he’ll stay home so as to give it his best shot, while his wife goes out and earns their living. Does Chloe resent this? Not on the surface but she can articulate it pretty well after a few drinks.
Jack’s response is for Chloe to stop drinking. Chloe’s response to Jack’s response is to have an affair with her boss.
While things are unraveling for the “perfect couple”, the guy upstairs, that Chloe refers to a “bottom feeder”, is constantly stoned, has interchangeable girlfriends, and life is one big party. There’s a comparison here between lifestyles and morality and you’re left to draw your own conclusions.
The author has layered the story with nuances and subtleties, most of which I likely missed and some I’m just realizing long after I’ve finished reading the book.
Dialogue and characterization are remarkable. In Thompson’s skilled hands, even the setting, Chicago, becomes a character onto itself.
This book is like experiencing the deterioration of a friend’s marriage, deeply personal, but frustrating because you can’t do anything about it. Like all Thompson’s work, City Boy is a story we all know, but only she seems able to articulate.
They say you learn more about an author from their fiction than you do from their memoir. If that’s the case than I’m sorry Jean, but thanks.