The Coast of Chicago: Stories
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The Coast of Chicago: Stories

4.11 of 5 stars 4.11  ·  rating details  ·  1,279 ratings  ·  137 reviews
The stolid landscape of Chicago suddenly turns dreamlike and otherworldly in Stuart Dybek’s classic story collection. A child’s collection of bottle caps becomes the tombstones of a graveyard. A lowly rightfielder’s inexplicable death turns him into a martyr to baseball. Strains of Chopin floating down the tenement airshaft are transformed into a mysterious anthem of loss....more
Paperback, 192 pages
Published April 3rd 2004 by Picador (first published 1990)
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Paul Sebik
Most of these stories have a narrator looking back to the time of the story from an undisclosed or unimportant future vantage point. The way the character looks back indicates the story is vital memory(to the character's existence even). Dybek's vivid flashes of past come in layer upon layer, rendering the story into not just memory, but perhaps the most important time of these characters' lives. The sense of nostalgia is thick and alive--it's hypnotic at times, but slows the read a bit, too. Th...more
Robert Palmer
I read this short story collection when it was chosen for the " one book one Chicago " in 2004. I think the reason the story's resonated so much for me was that I know the neighborhoods,the streets and the people,which it so much easer reading than Dubliners by James Joyce.
The book really had me at the section titled "Nighthawks" a young man killing time at the art institute would always end his day viewing Edward Hoppers painting named Nighthawks.Dybek than brings the paint to life . The couple...more
Matthew
Those were the days when the Belsen Street Pollacks came down the stairwells with their pockets filled with broken glass, an old Jew shouting out of the window, little Skip Kowalcyk reaching up to grab his fill of undergarments from the laundry lines - old Trouthead Mulvaney was on the mound for the Cubs, the smell of simmering beef heart and boiled tar in the air, Mayor Daley tapping the ash from his cigar as he rode by in his grand Buick, like some kind of pristine ocean liner, outfitted in br...more
Zinta
I’ve experienced that rare pleasure of hearing Stuart Dybek read his work—in Kalamazoo, Michigan, where he is a sometime adjunct professor at Western Michigan University, and so sometimes, not at all often, has read to a large and hungry Kalamazoo audience, myself among them. That was poetry. Good stuff. Really good stuff. And so picking up this collection of stories about my favorite city, Chicago, and Dybek’s hometown, too, I knew I would be in for a street wise treat. Oh yeah.

Fourteen storie...more
Andrea
"The Coast of Chicago" is a lyrical short story collection about growing up in Chicago in the 50's and 60's--the poverty, the wild aimlessness of boyhood, those who escape the neighborhood and those who don't. Each longer piece is followed by a short-short, which was a fun pattern. Dybek adeptly captures the mood of the city, especially at night and in the winters. My favorite story in this collection is the simply gorgeous "Chopin in Winter," which is about a boy and his grandpa who fervently l...more
Zombieaps
Blight is one of the best stories I've read in a long time, and in some ways its quality dampens the rest of the book for me. As a teacher of mine once said, "Stu really packs it in." A lot of the stories in this collection feel like novels. By the end so much has been seen and experienced that there's an ache for, but a satisfaction in knowing that it Dybek did it right.
Jessica
I really enjoyed this collection of short stories even though I'm not sure that I understand a few of the endings since Dybek writes poetically. My favorite is Lights because I had totally forgotten about this childhood activity..."Lights! Your lights! Hey, lights!" Makes me smile every time I think about it. I also like the lines from Strays..."I never give any of them names. We don't know an animal's name. A name's what we use instead of smelling." Have no fear...I'll continue to name my pets...more
Rachel
If you ever wanted to take a time capsule and go back in time to the Chicago South Side during the 60's and 70's, than this book will take you there. Dybek beautifully describes the lonliness and sadness of the back alleys of a working class neighborhood. I lived in the South Side, definitely during a different time, but he captured a feeling that I had while living there. You see fragments from that era on the street corners, and mixed in with the new culture that's taken over the South Side. I...more
Melody
Mar 29, 2009 Melody rated it 3 of 5 stars
Recommended to Melody by: Kelly
Smoky, atmospheric short and short-short stories. Pet Milk is a standout, while some of the short-shorts left me cold. Dybek has a singular voice, that isn't exactly haunting but is... well, muscular. Overwhelmingly male but not in a swaggering way.
Adrian Carpio
This collection of short stories center around Chicago in the 50s and the 80s(?). Again as with the other collections I have read recently, many of the stories convey a sense of loss. The stories vary in narrator and voice. Some of the narrators are children, Polish, Mexican, etc. One definitely gets the Chicago experience here. The writing reminds me of Denis Johnson.

The centerpiece of the collection is one of the longer stories called "Nighthawks" in which Dybek brings to life Edward Hopper's...more
Brad
Mostly stories of being young in Chicago in decades past. It explores different neighborhoods and different ages of youth. There’s some “Ah ha! I know that street name!” moments for Chicago-philes, but not enough to make this a must read on par with other Chicago books like, say, Devil in the White City. It explores different ways to tell a story, too, ranging from the snapshot two-page interludes throughout the book, to the kids in the old neighborhood tales, to the introspective moments, to th...more
Elizabeth
This collection of short stories affirms that Dybek is a more than worthy recipient of the genius grant he was awarded several years ago. While, as in any story collection, certain selections resonated more, the fact that they were all written in the first-person made for a more linear reader experience. I was also quite drawn to the way the stories themselves appeared -- longer selections punctuated by short vignettes that draw thematically on the extended story that comes after. Likewise, that...more
Adam
Dybek is a wonderful writer. Many of the stories in this collection read like they are dreams being recalled. I imagine these stories with a fuzzy white frame around them. You know--the way a dream sequence is portrayed on a cheesy television sit-com. But Dybek’s stories are not cheesy. Although I would say that while some of their themes are mature, their presentation is pretty PG. Even the book’s cover illustration and text is hazy, suggesting dreaminess.

Actually, my TV comments may not be as...more
Krok Zero
I hope Stuart Dybek writes a novel someday.

These stories are pretty good—good enough that I inhaled the whole book on a rainy Saturday—but I feel like Dybek's razor-sharp sense of place and elegant facility with everyday language would be better suited to the novel form. Like so many talented short story writers, Dybek is full of good ideas that never really coalesce into a satisfying whole. I submit that this is a flaw of the medium. It's possible to do wonderful things with the short story for...more
Jennifer
I picked this up because I had vague recollections of an old boyfriend reading Hot Ice and Pet Milk to me around '91, and wondered if they'd have the same impact on me eighteen years later. I really liked the stories Farwell and Chopin in Winter, then completely lost patience with Bijou and Nighthawks (which I found forced and arrogant) and thought the comparisons to Algren and Bellow were grossly exaggerated. I'm so glad I forged on though, as Hot Ice and Pet Milk are indeed the incredible stor...more
Krys
I feel like this collection reads like an MFA program's guide to "What a story should read like." But try as hard as I can to be disenchanted with its playing by the rules, I am victim to the values and payoffs I have been trained to appreciate.

Few stories in this set didn't work for me. And even the otherwise throwaway short-shorts placed in between more substantial stories become pallet cleansers before the next meaty bite. Standouts longer stories include the at times lyrical "Nighthawks," th...more
Ivan Labayne
So I won’t keep myself from doing this, even only for my stubbornness against the Formalist school, trumpeting organic unity, problematizing it even prior to the potential readings: for what I have went through in the earliest of February 25, 2012 include almost the first half of Stuart Dybek’s The Coast of Chicago and consummating the threshold pronouncing that I am ¾ through Saramago’s Blindness.

For Dybek, which I happened to own only two days ago, and who is being compared to Hemingway and Jo...more
Elizabeth
In this 1981 collection by Chicago native Stuart Dybek, the reader meets a cast of characters who are able to find the sacred in their blighted Southside landscape. The opening story tells of a taciturn grandfather who finally begins to speak to his adolescent grandson because of the upstairs neighbor's renditions of Chopin. Though Chopin is not conjured again after this piece, the young pregnant neighbor's piano strokes remain present in ghost form throughout the rest of the collection. Sleepwa...more
Patrick Brown
A good collection, maybe even great, but ultimately not quite as good as his more recent I Sailed with Magellan. "Pet Milk," "Hot Ice," and "Blight" are all terrific stories, especially "Pet Milk," which is so fucking achingly beautiful that I can hardly stand it. I had some trouble with the interminable "Nighthawks," a story that seemed gimmicky, something Dybek's stories rarely are. I have to confess that I don't really like stories where none of the characters have names, where they all seem...more
Kevin
One of several anthologies of short fiction by this author that I have read. Dybek blurs the line between fantasy and fact in his quasi-memoirs about growing up in Chicago in the Pilsen / Little Village area of the South Side in the 1960s. This time period was when white flight and deindustrialization were beginning to afflict Chicago and this part of town was in the middle of its transition from a predominantly Polish Catholic neighborhood to a predominantly Mexican Catholic neighborhood.

Some o...more
Tuck
while i liked his magellan book better (more evocations of singer shelt ghosts and funny stuff) this collection of stories is about as brilliant an example of new world-old school-czech american-marquez magic-short stories you'll ever need. I Sailed with Magellan
Kathleen
Dybek does an incredible job of combining the hallmarks of both short stories and poetry into writing that is intimate, vivid, and thematically universal. Much of his work (including The Coast of Chicago: Stories and I Sailed with Magellan) concerns his vast knowledge of Chicago, which is where he grew up. One of the great strengths of Dybek's work is that the intimacy is not forced, but is much more like the confidence of an old friend. His work does not thrive on extreme or provocative situati...more
Simon A. Smith
I finally read this one. I know a lot of Chicago writers point to this as the definitive collection of stories about Chicago and the vibrant characters that inhabit it. I liked it. I really did, but i didn't love it like I wanted to. The thing that kept me from truly loving it was that while Dybek is a very lyrical, poetic writer, his stories sometimes lack focus and momentum. Many of his stories are ABOUT characters and ABOUT places and ABOUT tragedies without actually diving full-in and allowi...more
Adam Dalva
A good collection - especially for Chicagoans. It's extremely front loaded, with the first two long stories really standing out (in the 4.3-4.7 range). All the short vignettes are great, and the last piece is good, but the book is dragged down, I think, by Nighthawks, a long story suite that feels a bit forced around the theme of the Nighthawks diner.

Dybek is also a poet, and the book is beautiful on the line-level, but it works best when he takes on tangible reality, especially from the perspe...more
Diana
Oct 26, 2008 Diana rated it 5 of 5 stars
Recommends it for: everyone
Recommended to Diana by: Tracy Kidder
I borrowed The Coast of Chicago from the library, but I don't want to give it back. Because it's not a book that you just read through and return to the library. Dybek's stories endure like poems to be read over and over again. I did this with many of these pieces. I'd get to the end and go right back to the beginning to relive the beauty. I don't know why his stories are so perfect. Like an album that's just right on, there's a mystery there. At first I wanted to articulate why I was taken by h...more
Michelle Correia
I read this book cover to cover in a single day
Such a beautiful piece of writing . I felt as if I were watching the characters going through the paces of their daily lives. Dybek is successful in transporting his readers into his stories, like some Bradbury-isque hologram projector.
Jessica
I read this a few years ago, and now don't remember most of the stories. "Pet Milk," though, is in my top five of favorite short stories of all time. I should reread the rest of this, and more of his other stuff, sometime.... Dybeck was partly responsible for the time I came close to moving away from New York to go to school in Chicago, and he is is not at all responsible for the fact that I finally didn't.

If you've never read "Pet Milk," you should. I can see how maybe not everyone would think...more
Beth
I almost never read short story collections, regrettably. I only sought out this one because I heard a Dybek story read in a podcast and was so taken by it that I wanted to seek out more of his writing. I'm so glad I did. Being a Chicago native may have contributed to my enjoyment of these stories, but that was just a tiny part of it. He writes with such beautiful style, I was just sucked in. I loved the really brief one about visiting the professor on a snowy night, and especially loved the lon...more
Pete
Jun 03, 2008 Pete rated it 3 of 5 stars
Shelves: 2008
Trying to write the occasional review for this site has reinforced the belief that I need to get into the habit of rereading books. "The Coast of Chicago" is a good read, and it moved me, at times. I can remember how the book made me feel--sad, nostalgic--but not why it elicited those emotions, or why I consider it to be intellectually accomplished.
In conclusion, this is a good book. It is by Stuart Dybek, who is a man. He went to St. Rita High School. This book is a short stories book. The st...more
Ron Fitzwater
Not as good as his poetry, but a decent rainy afternoon read.
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Stuart Dybek has published three short story collections: Childhood and Other Neighborhoods, The Coast of Chicago, and I Sailed With Magellan; and two volumes of poetry: Brass Knuckles and Streets in Their Own Ink. He has been anthologized frequently and regularly appears in magazines such as the New Yorker, the Atlantic, Harper’s Magazine and the Paris Review.

He has received numerous awards, incl...more
More about Stuart Dybek...
I Sailed with Magellan Childhood and Other Neighborhoods: Stories Streets in Their Own Ink: Poems Brass Knuckles Paper Lantern: Love Stories

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“Our plans for the future made us laugh and feel close, but those same plans somehow made anything more than temporary between us seem impossible. It was the first time I’d ever had the feeling of missing someone I was still with.” 72 likes
“Love, it’s such a night, laced with running water, irreparable, riddled with a million leaks. A night shaped like a shadow thrown by your absence. Every crack trickles, every overhang drips. The screech of nighthawks has been replaced by the splash of rain. The rain falls from the height of streetlights. Each drop contains its own shattering blue bulb.” 5 likes
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