I had the same problem with Leslie Stella’s second novel, The Easy Hour (Three Rivers Press), as I did with her first: it was embarrassing to read on the bus because I couldn’t help laughing out loud. The Easy Hour, subtitled A Novel of Leisure, chronicles the travails and triumphs of one Lisa Galisa, a 32-year-old Bridgeport-bred, Old Style-drinking, pastel Sobranie-smoking salesclerk at Fishman’s Department Store who endures a life of “poverty and unwilling celibacy” by spending her meager paycheck on cute clothes and beer. Too often she wakes up in her Wicker Park apartment with a hideous hangover. She longs for a life of fabulousness, then improbably gets it when, after a comedy of many errors that starts with her portrayal of Maria Callas for a “Greek Islands”-themed promotion at work, she’s hired as the personal assistant to socialite Honey Dietrich and becomes the tastemaker du jour. An advocate of the “Easy” lifestyle, Lisa champions a world in which Bridgeport is the new hip neighborhood, Guy Lombardo tunes play on the jukebox, and Harveys Bristol Cream is always in season. Of course it can’t last, but while it does the glitterati eat it up, and when Lisa’s 16th minute arrives, a handsome janitor-scientist is on hand to help soften the blow. Stella riffs on Chicago scenesters, slackers, celebrities, and goofy lifestyle trends with such humor and affection that it’s clear she loves this city. (She pokes ample fun at herself as well: Lisa’s unemployed brother starts a zine called Prole in their parents’ basement; Stella was one of the founders of Lumpen.) Stella reads from The Easy Hour on Thursday, May 8, at 7:30 at Barbara’s Bookstore, 1350 N. Wells, 312-642-5044.

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