BLUE IN CHICAGO by Bette Howland
Kirkus Star


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Blue in Chicago begins with a cousin's wedding and ends with a grandmother's death. Between these rituals, narrator Bette Lee (divorced, fortyish mother of two grown boys) sketches her working-class JeWish family in prose as packed as an old lady's shopping bag. Her mother, gray-haired and stylish in purple, arranges lunches for senior citizens scarcely older than herself. Hulking Uncle Rudy (""Rooty"" to his wife) makes the best living but is a family outsider as a Jewish cop. Auntie Yetta won't get dressed. Auntie Lena propels her husband (whatsisname?) down the street--he can only walk backwards. The Daughters of these Mothers produce cats and no babies; worse yet, Bette Lee won't move from the crime-ridden South Side. This whole crowd makes a mulish lot, led by the Bobbe, the matriarch, a fiercely independent old gypsy in scarves ("". . . what good is it, moving in with someone, if she's to be 'no trouble'?"") who keeps her pains and secrets to herself and, in a moving finale, dies (after an accident in the A & P) with more dignity than modern medicine would allow. Around the Chicago family drift other victims, other survivors: the ""bleak, unstylish poor"" who are both criminals and victims in the ""tedious, passionless process"" of the law, pawns of the attorneys' ""canned belligerence""; the old, homeless crazies, the unacknowledged ""regulars"" of the public libraries (""Let us speak frankly. Where are people to go?""); the desperate migrants to the country, the chicken farmers and former school teachers driven by ""the tyranny of these dreams of peace and quiet."" Finally, this is a wise story about love, about the chasms between people (""It is the hardest thing to take. . . . They don't want to know""), about the tenuous, swinging bridges thrown out by those obstinate, stubborn, contrary folk who are survivors.

Pub Date: Jan. 4th, 1977
Publisher: Harper & Row