Jean Thompson

"City Boy"

(reviewed by Kam Aures JUL 3, 2004)

"They had a bad neighbor. Bad in all the usual ways, and difficult to ignore. Music, noise on the stairs, carelessness about the disposal of garbage. Above their heads, he carried on wrestling matches with the furniture. His uncarpeted floors were a soundstage. He dropped and bumped and scraped. Jack and Chloe called him Hippie Pothead Rasta Boy, or sometimes just H.P.R.B. Being witty made them feel better, although not for long. Pot smoke wafted down to them along with other alarming vegetarian burnt smells, brown rice flambe or tofu gone wrong. A perpetual low-grade party reigned upstairs. There were muffled shrieks, more of the furniture wrestling, comings and goings late at night. When, after a time, they complained, they got nowhere. The kid was too stoned, his life already too full of mess and distraction for anything they said to register. The landlord was no help, nor were the police, unless they wanted to get him busted for drugs. Even under the circumstances it seemed like a crummy thing to do. So eventually they learned to live with annoyance, grievance, and the sense that an unfairness had been done to them."

To escape the "cookie cutter-like" suburbs, Jack and Chloe Chase move into the city to build thier new married life together. H.P.R.B., or Brezak (the name on his mailbox), is only one of the three strange neighbors that Jack and Chloe inherited when they move into a seventy-year-old apartment building in a near-north Chicago neighborhood. The other two neighbors are a racist older man, Mr. Dandy and a deaf older woman, Mrs. Lacagnina.

Though very much in love, Jack and Chloe are two very different people. Jack is a writer who has not yet actually written anything but is making an attempt to do so. On occasion and to help support the household, he works as a substitute teacher. Chloe provides the main bulk of the income with her high-ranking job at a downtown bank. Jack loves Chloe immensely and truly tries to be an ideal husband to her. Chloe's flirtatious office behavior, however, casts doubt as to whether or not this relationship can survive and Jack's love becomes an obsession. City Boy probes deep into what makes this relationship tick and how easy it is for it all to fall apart.

Some of my favorite parts of the novel are Jack's interactions with the quirky neighbors in his apartment complex. Each of them have such different personalities and these interchanges provide the needed comic relief to an otherwise sad and somewhat serious story. All of the characters are described in such detail that you are able to vividly picture them in your mind.

Another aspect that was interesting to me personally has to do with some of the locations mentioned in the book. Jack and Chloe were planning to take a trip up North and two of the places mentioned were Minocqua and Lake Tomahawk. Both of these towns are about 15 miles from where I live and coming from such a rural area it is definitely a rare thing to see them mentioned in a novel. The airport in Green Bay, more specifically the rental car counters, is another familiar spot in the novel. When I was in college I worked for a car rental company in this very airport so it was interesting to me to see how the airport and rental counter areas were described. It is not often that I can relate to a specific location in a novel.

City Boy is a very well written and thought-provoking novel. Not only does it explore the dynamics of a failing relationship but it also delves deep into the dynamics of living in an apartment complex. This book is a very interesting fictional "study" of human behavior and I definitely recommend it!

  • Amazon readers rating: from 5 reviews


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About the Author:

Jean ThompsonJean Thompson stories have appeared in The New Yorker, Story, Mademoiselle, Ontario Review, Ploughshares, Best American Short Stories, and The Pushcart Prizes. Her collection of short stories titled Who Do You Love was a finalist for the National Book Award and a New York Times Notable Book. She is the recipient of fellowships from the National Endowment for the Arts and the Guggenheim Foundation and teaches fiction at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign. About Us | Subscribe | Review Team | History | ©1998-2014