about the author

Staff Book Reviewer Spencer Dew is the author of the novel Here Is How It Happens (Ampersand Books, 2013), the short story collection Songs of Insurgency (Vagabond Press, 2008), the chapbook Mont-Saint-Michel and Chartres (Another New Calligraphy, 2010), and the critical study Learning for Revolution: The Work of Kathy Acker (San Diego State University Press, 2011). His Web site is spencerdew.com.

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Where the Marshland Came to Flower
A Review of Where the Marshland Came to Flower
by Peter Anderson

Spencer Dew

Anderson’s short story collection is a song-by-song homage to Lou Reed’s “New York,” only the subject here is Chicago, resolutely, and as a patchwork, neighborhood by neighborhood, working person by working person. The characters here are often types, to be sure—the regular at the corner bar, the former union guy, the charity-minded commuter, the super at his shovel, the teenager working up the nerve to rebel—but imagined in ineluctable particularity, folks, like the sorts who talked to Studs Terkel, each saying something, in the context of Anderson’s work, that conveys a taste of a different part of the city, a pixel in the glowing portrait you see as your airplane descends. And each of these site-specific stories, these character-driven bits of a larger tapestry, are written to some strand of theme from Reed’s album. It’s a conceptual project as much as it is a story collection, and it necessarily echoes, too, with layers of the city’s representation, with Chicago as a literary subject and star, though there is more Dybek here than Cisneros, more from Bellow than Algren, more the flaneurship of Hecht than the frustrations of Wright or the urgent lyrical observations of Olivarez. But as in Reed, this particular point of view gives a kind of melancholy; white flight is certainly a subject here, treated in elegiac tones, a regret for what was lost. The landscape is often melancholy, too, with attention to the industrial zones over which the el trains rattle, “lots . . . jammed with empty trailers, then another scattering of intermodals and gray corrugated-aluminum factories which belched exhaust plumes of unnatural colors.” There’s a persistent sense that the streets are violence, too—a violence sometimes real, sometimes imagined, though the most damaging crimes, Anderson seems to say, are wrought by the marketplace, leaving some characters desperate and dependent on luck, others begging under the towers of wealth. But—also as in Reed, and nodding surely also to Terkel and Dybek and Bellow and Hecht—there’s a real celebration and savor of small wonders, whether the imagination of a childhood parish or the morphing scents of a slow-boiling sauce base or the spiking verbal cadence of a preacher or the simple yet poignant still life represented by a line of empty shot glasses on a bar, each “still retaining the faintest tint of amber.”

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