Slow Trains Overhead by Reginald Gibbons

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Being a blogger, I was lucky enough to get a copy of Slow Trains Overhead as an uncorrected page proof, yet to be released by the University of Chicago Press. Gibbons, a professor at Northwestern University, writes of the kind of intimate encounters, eccentric occurrences, and everyday life that comes with our city. Through a variety of short stories, versed and unversed poetry, Gibbons recreates the experiences that long-time Chicagoans know and that every newcomer yearns to know.

Gibbons is a father, a daughter, a son, a neighbor, an observer, a woman named Esther. He lives downtown; he lives in a run-down neighborhood, fifth-story apartment; he lives in the suburbs. In this selection, Gibbons writes himself into the many different characters of life in Chicago, exploring their viewpoints, bringing us along with him into their fears, their dreams, and their joy in the little things. He contrasts nature and architecture, wretched and healthy, homeless and sheltered and everything in between. He tells stories of them all: old and middle-aged and teen-aged and child-aged.

Gibbons takes all of these parts of Chicago and shows us how we live together, how we misunderstand each other but struggle together in the same ways. He shows Chicago with its cold, black heart, with a happy heart that throbs itself into blackness, with a nurturing heart. As a reader, I was pulled into the city by his writing in a way that I had always wanted to be inside of it. Through his poems and stories, I became each one of the characters, not just imagining their appearances or their sounds and smells, but really becoming the desperate street-man and the teenage delinquent himself, knowing his and thus my own thoughts of the rushing life around us.

In this way, Gibbons encourages a sort of understanding between the different parts of Chicago, almost forces it upon us with his writing, bringing them all together by taking the reader out of his own character and into another. And despite the many characters, he maintains a strong, particular voice throughout the selection. This voice is, to me, precisely the voice of this purpose of greater understanding and solidarity. Living in this widespread and heavily separated city, living neighborhood by neighborhood, south side by west side by north side, it is a voice that speaks within any one of us when we think of all the people with whom we share this city: its history, its cultures, its fame, and its everyday happenings.

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