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As a young creative-writing teacher 25 years ago, Jean Thompson gave her students only two restrictions: no stories about young love and no it-was-all-a-dream resolutions. But when you’re older you get to break at least one of the rules. Thompson’s new novel, City Boy (Simon & Schuster), tells the story of Jack and Chloe–newly married, recent graduates of Northwestern who take an apartment in a gentrifying Chicago neighborhood, their “vision of smart urban living.” Any dreams they have, however, are waking nightmares. The couple have literary aspirations, but Chloe puts hers on hold and takes a job at a downtown bank while Jack stays home and tries to write. Both are attractive, well-off, and intelligent, but their insecurities and mistrust breed ever-increasing cruelties, and they torture each other using the most punishing weapons in their arsenal–words. Searching for validation, alcoholic Chloe drops hints of an affair at work, while self-righteous Jack dallies with teenage Ivory, a friend of the noisy upstairs neighbor they’ve dubbed Hippie Pothead Rasta Boy. Thompson keeps her own style low-key even while Jack and Chloe indulge in writerly bombast, and her settings and details–from Cubs games to barbecues in Berwyn to “the wrought-iron fencing and sidewalk flower planters”–show she’s familiar with the terrain. The wonder of City Boy is that Thompson is able to keep a reader caring about two such self-absorbed, self-pitying characters, and indeed, like in a movie, tough-kid Ivory very nearly steals the show; she’s physically crippled but emotionally more whole than Jack and Chloe could ever be. Thompson (who still teaches at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign) reads at 7:30 PM on Tuesday, February 17, at the Book Stall at Chestnut Court, 811 Elm, Winnetka, 847-446-8880.

Art accompanying story in printed newspaper (not available in this archive): photo/Marion Ettlinger.