introducing readers to writers since 1995

July 13, 2005

Author2Author: Adam Langer & Andrew Winston, pt. 2

by Ron Hogan

After dipping into Chicago's past yesterday by way of Adam Langer's Crossing California, the conversation turns to the more recent setting of Andrew Winston's Looped.

Adam Langer: In some way, I have to say that I think you had a harder task than I did when it came to capturing a period in time, largely because writing about a time 25 years ago allowed me the benefit of distance, while the year 2000 still feels very much like yesterday to me and it's hard for me to completely grasp even now. Did you find it challenging to write about a time that's still so much of the present consciousness? And how did you choose to set Looped when and where you did? Also, how does your experience of Chicago--whether as outsider or insider--contribute to your experience writing Looped? By the way, I had some ideas too about asking you to contrast the way you and I have written about Chicago, how I have veered toward the microcosm, while you have delivered a jaw-droppingly ambitious macrocosm, and to see if you think that this contrast relates in any way to how you and I have each experienced Chicago. But I'm having trouble asking a cogent question about this topic; if you can make sense of my blather and riff on it, that would be cool.

looped.jpgAndrew Winston: Your question about micro- versus macrocosm views of Chicago hit right at the heart of something that only became clear to me this spring as I started having to talk about how Looped fits (or doesn't) with the history of Chicago novels--yours included. I moved to Chicago as an adult in 1988. So unlike you, Bellow, Stuart Dybek, Harry Mark Petrakis, Joe Meno, Daniela Kuper, and many others, I did not have a particular piece of Chicago to call my own. I lived all over the city, southside and northside, for about ten years before I began writing Looped. I experienced the city as a collection of neighborhoods, not one in particular.

And I recently realized something else (like you, I don't plan all this stuff out ahead of time): over half of the characters in Looped are not from Chicago. Like me and many of the people I know, they come from elsewhere- -other countries, other cities, other states--Vietnam, Greece, Louisiana, Cleveland, Texarkana. Cities draw people to them, just as New York has drawn you. That's part of the social engine of a great metropolis. Of course Looped also contains homegrown stalwarts from the south suburbs, the north shore, and lakeside high rises that also have to be in the mix for the representation of the city to be whole. That's the Chicago I know, and that's the one I wrote.

The ironic thing about the other part of your question, time, was that I did not set Looped in the near past, but the near future. I began writing it in the late 90s, thinking it would be so cool to have a book that tracked with the year in which it appeared. But like Millennium Park, Looped missed the target date by a few years. I enjoyed writing about the present in a slightly off-center way, inventing places and events that were slightly twisted from reality as a way to sometimes satirize a trend (like hybrid coffee shops such as Urbs in Horto, or the proliferation of half-assed bands with names like Tarp), sometimes to honor them--like creating a comic book store not unlike the semi-famous Quimby's. (I had other inventions--like a beer called Snap! that came with a toy inside, targeted at Gen X drinkers who bemoaned the passing of their cereal box trinkets--but that, along with 400 other manuscript pages, had to go by the wayside.) By using a contemporary Chicago setting, I was able to weave in rich raw material I gathered from news stories--like the story of Soo and Ng Pran-Markowitz which evolved from a radio documentary--and from tales my friends relayed to me--such as the gay lovers who host a homophobic priest who breaks his foot and stays for months while the lovers pretend to be roommates.

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