Despite its specificity, this history is a small wonder, providing a fun but thorough look into one of Chicago’s greatest...

999

A HISTORY OF CHICAGO IN TEN STORIES

This unique history centers on the prehistory, founding and residents of 999 Lake Shore Dr., an apartment building that symbolizes Chicago’s wealthy class.

Fizdale’s beautifully illustrated debut is a labor of love about his home, the architectural marvel 999 Lake Shore Dr. in the historic Chicago neighborhood of Streeterville. After catastrophic losses in the wake of the famous Chicago Fire of 1871, entrepreneurs and real estate watchers set their sights on the north side of the city, looking to build Lake Shore Drive, now a major thoroughfare on Chicago’s lakeside. Fizdale portrays the characters in those subsequent years: Potter Palmer, a visionary innovator of the department store, and George “Cap” Streeter, who schemed to create a land claim in Lake Michigan by allowing others to dump tons of garbage around his wrecked boat. Fizdale’s treatment of Streeter’s comic drama paints him larger than life, detailing his absurd machinations for stealing back “his” land, including the construction of a rudimentary tank out of a car, a small house and Gatling guns. Buoyed by the high quality of Fizdale’s research, Streeter’s story entertains immensely; at times, the book feels like the outline for a cable series, twisting and turning through Chicago real estate lore. Later, Fizdale’s vignettes of the many families that occupied 999 reveal a variety of human experience among wealthy Chicagoans. Each passage is a glimpse into a life among many, whether it’s someone who helped figure out how to remove sulfur from crude oil, a Rockefeller descendant who contacted her “spiritual bridegroom” via séance, or a tenant’s great-grandfather who died after gunpowder experiments went bad. Actors, socialites, gangsters, entrepreneurs and clerks all stayed there. Throughout, Fizdale’s humorous tone adeptly guides readers: “John [Kraft] processed, packaged and sold cheese. Then he did it again and again and again….Even wife June got into the act. She was a ‘cheese industry librarian.’ ” As Fizdale states in his introduction, “history never yields all of its secrets”; yet here we have a reconstruction that, though small in scope, uncovers the secret texture of life in another age. Numerous illustrations, maps, and black-and-white and color photos—taking up about as much space as the text—help enliven the work further.

Despite its specificity, this history is a small wonder, providing a fun but thorough look into one of Chicago’s greatest living spaces.

Pub Date: April 15, 2014

ISBN: 978-1467545280

Page Count: 260

Publisher: Ampersand Inc.

Review Posted Online: June 11, 2014

Kirkus Reviews Issue: July 15, 2014

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The best-selling author of tearjerkers like Angel Falls (2000) serves up yet another mountain of mush, topped off with...

SUMMER ISLAND

Talk-show queen takes tumble as millions jeer.

Nora Bridges is a wildly popular radio spokesperson for family-first virtues, but her loyal listeners don't know that she walked out on her husband and teenaged daughters years ago and didn't look back. Now that a former lover has sold racy pix of naked Nora and horny himself to a national tabloid, her estranged daughter Ruby, an unsuccessful stand-up comic in Los Angeles, has been approached to pen a tell-all. Greedy for the fat fee she's been promised, Ruby agrees and heads for the San Juan Islands, eager to get reacquainted with the mom she plans to betray. Once in the family homestead, nasty Ruby alternately sulks and glares at her mother, who is temporarily wheelchair-bound as a result of a post-scandal car crash. Uncaring, Ruby begins writing her side of the story when she's not strolling on the beach with former sweetheart Dean Sloan, the son of wealthy socialites who basically ignored him and his gay brother Eric. Eric, now dying of cancer and also in a wheelchair, has returned to the island. This dismal threesome catch up on old times, recalling their childhood idylls on the island. After Ruby's perfect big sister Caroline shows up, there's another round of heartfelt talk. Nora gradually reveals the truth about her unloving husband and her late father's alcoholism, which led her to seek the approval of others at the cost of her own peace of mind. And so on. Ruby is aghast to discover that she doesn't know everything after all, but Dean offers her subdued comfort. Happy endings await almost everyone—except for readers of this nobly preachy snifflefest.

The best-selling author of tearjerkers like Angel Falls (2000) serves up yet another mountain of mush, topped off with syrupy platitudes about life and love.

Pub Date: March 1, 2001

ISBN: 0-609-60737-5

Page Count: 336

Publisher: Crown

Review Posted Online: May 20, 2010

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Jan. 15, 2001

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Kin “[find] each other’s lives inscrutable” in this rich, sharp story about the way identity is formed.

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THE VANISHING HALF

Inseparable identical twin sisters ditch home together, and then one decides to vanish.

The talented Bennett fuels her fiction with secrets—first in her lauded debut, The Mothers (2016), and now in the assured and magnetic story of the Vignes sisters, light-skinned women parked on opposite sides of the color line. Desiree, the “fidgety twin,” and Stella, “a smart, careful girl,” make their break from stultifying rural Mallard, Louisiana, becoming 16-year-old runaways in 1954 New Orleans. The novel opens 14 years later as Desiree, fleeing a violent marriage in D.C., returns home with a different relative: her 8-year-old daughter, Jude. The gossips are agog: “In Mallard, nobody married dark....Marrying a dark man and dragging his blueblack child all over town was one step too far.” Desiree's decision seals Jude’s misery in this “colorstruck” place and propels a new generation of flight: Jude escapes on a track scholarship to UCLA. Tending bar as a side job in Beverly Hills, she catches a glimpse of her mother’s doppelgänger. Stella, ensconced in White society, is shedding her fur coat. Jude, so Black that strangers routinely stare, is unrecognizable to her aunt. All this is expertly paced, unfurling before the book is half finished; a reader can guess what is coming. Bennett is deeply engaged in the unknowability of other people and the scourge of colorism. The scene in which Stella adopts her White persona is a tour de force of doubling and confusion. It calls up Toni Morrison’s The Bluest Eye, the book's 50-year-old antecedent. Bennett's novel plays with its characters' nagging feelings of being incomplete—for the twins without each other; for Jude’s boyfriend, Reese, who is trans and seeks surgery; for their friend Barry, who performs in drag as Bianca. Bennett keeps all these plot threads thrumming and her social commentary crisp. In the second half, Jude spars with her cousin Kennedy, Stella's daughter, a spoiled actress.

Kin “[find] each other’s lives inscrutable” in this rich, sharp story about the way identity is formed.

Pub Date: June 2, 2020

ISBN: 978-0-525-53629-1

Page Count: 352

Publisher: Riverhead

Review Posted Online: March 15, 2020

Kirkus Reviews Issue: April 1, 2020

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