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Lorenz follows his appealing and lauded first novel, Guys Like Us (1980), with something pretty much along the same lines: a working-class Chicago comedy with sentiment bunching at the end--yet also with such good humor that it's not terribly bothersome. Richie Kohler works (though that's stretching the term) for his widowered father Big Joe. in Big Joe's neighborhood grocery. Richie hates it, Big Joe hates that Richie hates it--the situation is no-win. So when an acquaintance of Richie's named Mars suggests a bartending job at a Mafioso-swank nightclub near the airport, Richie grabs for it. Life at the Oasis, though, is all bimbos, coke, booze, and dissolution--except that Richie does like one of the cocktail waitresses, Louise. Louise, who has a young son, wanted originally to be a singer, and is basically pure of heart--and Richie falls for her. Very slowly the love is returned. But finally the sleazy Oasis wins: friend Mars gets into some very funny but eventually tragic hot water involving a soul group that he discovers and turns manager for, the Mighty Funkateers ("" 'So anyway we're sitting there and pretty soon this huge pack of brothers comes out and gets on stage and starts tuning their instruments. It's like a whole fucking orchestra up there, the Uganda Philharmonic' ""). There's a fire, Louise is killed, and her son proves to be Richie's oxygen tank on his way back to the surface of life. Lorenz's Chicago is Saul Bellow's, but a class-and-a-half down. The same fond, sharp knowledge is in force, and, despite the treacly edges, it's very good.

Pub Date: June 1st, 1988
Publisher: Viking