A portrait of the Windy City that’s made up of many strands and colors.
The action unfolds over the course of the year 2000—between one New Year’s party and the next—all of it lovingly detailed, with emphasis on geographic exactness. As a love letter to rough-and-tumble Chicago, Winston’s debut novel succeeds, but at the same time it suffers dramatically due to its rather inconsequential parade of characters becoming lost in their setting (something that Adam Langer’s similarly conceived Crossing California successfully avoided). Author Winston, a former editor of the Chicago Review, has carefully chosen his dramatis personae for their ethnic, sexual, geographic and socioeconomic particularities, some only tangentially related to the others’ plot strands, if at all. There’s Ellen, the flaky former suburbanite whose daddy has just turned off the money spigot and who can’t commit to her troubled girlfriend, Megan. Alphonse, the black postman, is having serious family issues, while Florence, one of the older women on Alphonse’s route, is trying to get over her husband’s recent death. Some of the stories turn too much on situational plot hooks, as when gay couple Nathan and Robin have to make room in their apartment for Nathan’s uncle, a homophobic priest, or when singer Brad ditches his on-the-cusp band to try making it in New York (on the advice of his calculating lover), only to come crawling back after realizing the joke was on him. Winston knows better than to try to weave everything together here, since the necessary coincidences would badly strain credibility. There are characters who do end up migrating into each others’ lives by the story’s end, but, even then, the result is an overlong narrative that’s too heavy on setting and, in the interest of not giving short shrift to anyone, loses sight of its more intriguing figures.
A first effort that’s charming at times but doesn’t know when to cut itself short.