College dropout Ellen Kovacs wanders through the Chicago neighborhood of Rogers Park, using an 8mm camera to follow a single face. It's a fine metaphor for this clear-sighted debut novel, which evokes all the variety of the massive city of Chicago by focusing on the workings of one neighborhood. The face Ellen follows belongs to Alice O'Leary, a struggling musician with a job in a flower shop. At the shop, Alice meets Nathan and his lover, Robin, who are trying to keep up a relationship despite heavy baggage on both sides. Across the street from the flower shop is a diner frequented by Ng Pran-Markowitz, a teenage artist and loner. The diner, in turn, is owned by Elias Kanakes, who is losing his connection to his family and worries that his restaurant's day has passed. His mail is delivered by Alphonse Duchossois, an African-American who befriends Florence Finkel, an elderly Jewish widow who sees visions of her late husband. Winston spins his wheel of characters round and round over the course of a single year, capturing the way relationships bloom and break apart and raising unspoken questions: What constitutes community? What do people really have in common? Winston gives Chicago the complex treatment it deserves, both as a dynamic city and a collection of individuals. He demonstrates that people who share space also share responsibility for one another. As Ellen says to Alice, "Some day... you have to promise something to someone." (Mar. 1)
Forecast: This should do especially well in the Chicago area, but a few prominent reviews could help it attract national attention, too. A nice collection of blurbs—from Po Bronson, Donald Harington, Lisa Tucker and Adam Langer—will give it a push out the gate.
Release date: 02/01/2005