I didn’t expect to love this book as much as I did. My parents gave it to me for my birthday a couple of years ago based only on the fact that it was a book and that it was about Chicago, two things I obviously love. But, I have a terrible habit of collecting books and then taking forever to getting around to actually reading them, so it has sat on my “to be read” shelf in two different apartments.
The dead of winter was the perfect time to pick it up, not because when it feels like 8 degrees outside I feel closest to my favorite frozen city, but because Doyle’s book is like a warm burrow of nostalgia for anyone who has loved Chicago and had to leave it. Because, as wonderfully as he captures Chicago’s beautiful idiosyncratic details (both beautiful and tragic) this isn’t really a book about the city. It’s a book about the particular pain of missing Chicago, which is an emotion I am all too familiar with.
“Sometimes, even now, years later and far away, on steel-gray days when the wind whips and I am near large waters, I feel a bolt of what I can only call Chicagoness, and I remember, I remember… what? A certain Chicago of the mind I suppose.”
I made a Google doc of quotes, like this one, from this book that felt like they were exactly describing my emotions, it is 4 pages long. And I won’t bore you all with each bit of it, mostly because I want you to read it, but also because that would be a very incoherent blog post. I don’t want to leave you with the impression that Doyle, or I, believe Chicago to be perfect. One of the things I connected to most in this was the way he captured the fact that Chicagoans, despite their very vocal civic pride, have their eyes wide open about the bloody sadness that surrounds them. As he puts it, “…you never saw a city so filled with knowing as Chicago…” They probably don’t do enough with that knowing, but who does?
This isn’t a memoir (though you can tell it may as well be in a lot of ways) and what little plot there is doesn’t always cohere, but it captured the texture of remembering being young and clueless in the city where I was younger and more clueless than I am now, in a way that moved me more than I can really say, so instead I’ll leave you with one more quote:
“But never, among all the cities I have wandered over the years, cities all over the earth, did I feel and smell and sense anything quite like the verb that is Chicago; and always, no matter how many years passed, I could hear and see and touch something inside me that only Chicago has and is, some intricate combination of flat sharp light off the lake grappling with dense light from the plains to the west, the fields to the south, the forests to the north.”