Friday, March 17, 2006

The Great Illinois Novel

I asked Steve Rhodes, founder of The Beachwood Reporter, for his take on the Great Illinois Novel. He came through...big-time:
Those with more literary tastes than mine might choose a work by Saul Bellow or Theodore Dreiser as the Great Illinois Novel. I'm much more of a non-fiction reader, and in the rough-and-tumble of Chicago (and Illinois) politics, I think books such as Boss and American Pharoah are the best representations of life here. Our reality is far more inventive than any piece of fiction.

However, I would be partial to Nelson Algren--The Man With the Golden Arm or Never Come Morning--as the Great Illinois novelist because he manages to examine power from the perspective of the powerless better than any other writer from here that I know.

That said, I would go a step further in nominating the essayistic City on the Make as the great Illinois novel, because it isn't a novel per se, but a form that draws heavily on the non-fiction reality of the way this state works, while still being a wholly literary work of the imagination.

As Studs Terkel wrote in his 1983 introduction to a new printing of City on the Make, Algren "recognized Chicago as Hustler Town from its first prairie morning as the city's fathers hustled the Pottawattomies to their last moccasin. He recognized it, too, as another place: North Star to Jane Addams as to Al Capone, to John Peter Altgeld as to Richard J. Daley, to Clarence Darrow as to Julius Hoffman. He saw it not too much as Janus-faced but as the carny freak show's two-headedboy, one noggin Neanderthal, the other noble-browed. You see, Nelson Algren was a street-corner comic as well as a poet."

Hemingway said of it: "You should not read it if you cannot take a punch."

And lest this choice be considered too Chicago-centric, not Illinois enough, I gently remind you that our former governor, a pharmacist from Kankakee who has spent nearly the entirety of his political career in various elected offices in our downstate capitol city of Springfield, is currently awaiting the jury's verdict on racketeering charges that go to the heart of the state's politics.
Steve Rhodes is the founder of The Beachwood Reporter, "an international news-gathering operation dedicated to the proposition that journalism and rock and roll done right are inextricably linked; that truth and comedy are two sides of different coins that, when rubbed together properly, can mutate into a slug that will efficiently disable a parking meter; and that while bad news travels fast, our news travels even faster."

Check out the The Beachwood Reporter. And while you're there, don't miss "today's horoscope" and the "daily affirmation" on the left side of the homepage.

Thanks to Steve for the recommendation and the insights.

--Marshal Zeringue

For The Great Michigan Novel, click here.
For The Great California Novel, click here.
For The Great Oregon Novel, click here.
For The Great Texas Novel, click here.
For The Great Louisiana Novel, click here.