When a novelist sets ethnic Catholics on the mean streets of Chicago, he knows that heavyweights such as James T. Farrell and Nelson Algren already claim dibs on that turf, but damned if Bob Hartley hasn't given us a compelling story in "Following Tommy.'' It's the first novel for Mr. Hartley, raised on Chicago's West Side and now a Lawrenceville resident.
Cervena Barva Press ($17).
Set in the summer of 1962, the novel follows Jacky and Tommy O'Day, a couple of teenage petty thieves with a sainted dead mother and a drunken father. They may sound like characters from the Irish stereotype storehouse, but Jacky's wit and emerging social consciousness make him a character to remember and set this novel apart.
The story moves swiftly when a black family moves into the neighborhood. Tommy wants them out in the worst way and Jacky stumbles through the Huck Finn territory of having a heart that's ahead of his neighbors'. The dialogue is sharp as cops and robbers move in directions the reader won't anticipate, and Mr. Hartley also paints vividly the eternal truths of teenage love and lust.
First Published September 2, 2012 4:00 AM