When you are reading Hugh Holton’s Chicago Blues it’s hard to think of it as the city which has been the home of such great blues music. He does write some blues lyrics in his book and so you wonder whether the lyrics came first and inspired the book or vice versa:
They call it the windy city
‘Cause the wind there has no pity
Like a freight train roarin’ toward you,
Like its whistle blown’ through you,
Through your heart, through your heart.
I found it a hard read because I don’t like violence or violent texts. I persisted because I thought at least it would challenge me and my thinking. For the first 80 pages I was thinking, I am just going to put this in the bin. I don’t want to read it and I don’t want anyone else to read it. Right, it’s going in the bin. Okay, I’ll race through this bit and hope it gets better. I was brought up to respect and revere books , so binning them is sacrilege. Half way through the book it had settled a bit and so had I. It really was a freight train coming at me , it really was whistling through me and it really was crashing through my heart. For the first half of the book the narrative was lost in all the violence. Everyone was harsh, hard, brutal, aggressive. Then a husband and wife sit in the den together and read . For the first time you have normal people doing normal things. You then get great lines once in a while like:
“He opened his mouth and let a couple of drops fall on his tongue. He savored the taste for a moment before smiling. The Odds-n-Ends Souvenir Shop was raining beer. “
This novel was so unlike anything I read so it will take some time to decide what I really thought. I did read the second half very quickly and found it much more satisfying but ,I guess, by then, I knew what I was in for and could manage it psychologically. I just had to detach myself and read and then look at it from a critical point of view. In lots of ways it is very Old testament – If you live by the sword , you die by the sword. It was also very much about the complications of police , politics and mobsters which has some relevance in today’s society. It was written in 1996 and yet you can recognise it as current. Maybe Chicago has gone mainstream? Its difference was what made it a valuable read for me. I learned a lot but I cannot be sure that I’d ever read a book like that again.