Friday, July 25, 2008

The Mind of a Lifer

In my mind, there are two types of Chicagoans: the transplants and the lifers. The transplants are the ones from Indiana and Michigan, people from small towns who took the bus to the nearest big city as soon as they graduated high school. They see the city with different eyes; everything is new and exciting. The lifers have always been here, the city is like a childhood friend. They know the ins, the outs, and its deep dark secrets.

My father is a lifer. He grew up in South Shore, went to UIC which he still refers to as "circle", drove a cab to put himself through college and later grad school. Name two points in this city, he can tell you the fastest way to get there and where to stop for a good hot dog along the way.

I've acquired my father's knowledge of the city. Sometimes it feels like I know every side street, back alley, or short cut in this town. For this, I often find it difficult to read books about Chicago. While I love reading about my city, especially when the author can deliver the details, it can be obvious when the novel is written by a transplant and frustrating when they get the details wrong. Getting the facts straight isn't the only problem. The tell is in the dialogue, in the way the author describes scenes. Other lifers can tell you: Chicagoans think and talk about their city in a different way, and it carries over into the writing.

There have been plenty of fantastic books written about my fair city, and a good number of them were written by transplants. I could always tell. Until now.

Marcus Sakey, like many Chicago transplants, grew up in Michigan. But when I read his latest book, Good People, I forgot that he wasn't a lifer. He talks about the city the way my father does. He knows about the corruption, how the police and press work, the mindsets of the city's citizens and its criminals. Not only was it a gripping, suspenseful, give-you-a-heart-attack type of read, but it utilized the city, making it the perfect backdrop for his story. Hands down, it's the best Chicago book I've read this year, maybe ever, and the fact that it wasn't written by a lifer makes the book even more impressive. It's hard for me to see another transplant topping it, but then again, Sean Chercover's Trigger City is next on the list...

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