I tried, I really did try to finish David Mamet’s Chicago, but I could not. I wanted to stop around page forty, but I persevered for another forty and threw up a white flag. It’s not that Mamet’s book is particular long – 350 pages –, no, what made me tap out was that the writing was more fascinated with itself than telling a story.
The novel begins with two newspaper writers duck hunting and talking. And right there, you imagine, Mamet writing dialogue, should be greats. It’s not. At one point a few chapters in, one of the main characters finds the other in the newspaper morgue “reading a paper from ’23. It was a photograph of a huge floral tribute.”
“The florists,” Mike said. “North Side.”
“Yes, the Micks have the florists, and their entry to the North Side, its rich apartments, happily served by the delivery boys, ‘Wait right here, while I go into my bedroom, young man, and fetch you something for yourself, dot, dot, dot,’ where was I?”
“The florists,” Mike said.
“The North Side,” Parlow said, “widening their commerce also to the selling of hooch, nose candy, opium, and the control of the speaks north of our Rubicon, the Chicago River.
“The Nation of Ausonia-in-Exile has to their credit: the Negro enclaves of the South and West Sides, numbers, girls, and the aforesaid analgesics. The North Side . . .”
“Nails Morton,” Mike said.
“Nails,” Parlow said, “yes, was, nominally, a florist. And he was the Hebrew ombudsman and Jud Süss to O’Banion and his merry band of horticulturists.”
“Nails,” Mike said. “Pulled in, in his youth, for the murder of this or that odd duck, various other juvenile pranks, including ‘parsimony with lack of intent to share with the cops.’”
It was like trying to read Ulysses without the heritage. I found the dialogue tiresome, unreal, and unbelievable.
And then there is the narrative and descriptions. I have never seen a writer love commas more than Mamet.
There, at the funeral, its honoree a representative of the South Side, one Alfonse Mucci, were the warring factions, convened in the usual performance of “peace at the waterhole.” And there was Mike, and there were his colleagues, representatives of the City Desks of the other Chicago papers, each searching for a slant that would be evident to him but somehow opaque to his equally attentive competition.
Mike was not, of course, deluding the father, who, in addition to suspecting any man of any age, was especially attuned to the actual appearance, however disguised, of lust; neither was he fooling the daughter, who, like all women of all time, was perfectly aware of both the presence and the degree of men’s interest.
A book about 1920s gangsters in Chicago by David Mamet, should have been glorious and covered in praise, instead, it reads like a writing exercise. I can picture Mamet pecking away at the keyboard thinking, “Hey, look what I can do”. If you are impressed with Mamet’s writing as much as Mamet is, then you’ll enjoy this book.