Gregg Shapiro is a prolific gay writer of the Midwest, with pieces spanning from poetry and fiction to entertainment news. A Chicago native, the city is particularly fond of him, a superstar in the local LGBT literary community. Many of his theater reviews and celebrity interviews – all with an LGBT slant – can be found among the regional papers and magazines of the Windy City. With Lincoln Avenue: Chicago Stories, Shapiro pays tribute to his hometown in twelve short stories; capturing the city in the 70s and 80s world he grew up in.
Often funny and always intimate, Shapiro’s stories tap into the charged atmosphere found in the one-on-one encounter. Whether between family members, strangers, or exes, most of the stories take place in the space between the driver and passenger’s seats (with plenty of cars to accommodate). The unconnected stories use this space to provide a spectrum for the young, Midwestern gay man, while maintaining the core sense of Chicago life throughout. The first and last stories, “Your Father’s Car” and “Your Mother’s Car,” reveal how smoothly Shapiro handles these similarities and differences in such a limited space.
“Lunch with a Porn Star” and “Marilyn, My Mother, Myself” were two favorites I’d recommend for their attention to starting and well-worn relationships. The chance encounter with a famous porn star and the material fixation of an overly supportive mother make for truly entertaining reads. The relatively simple moments have the light-hearted power that nostalgia brings when we look back on our younger days,
Not every story was a hit. Just as the best stories are the ones that bring the characters close, when they are kept at a distance, like during the phone conversation in “Threes,” the reader’s kept on the surface of the story. Also, a story or two tries to bring in a larger cast in all at once, and ends up dragging down the pace. “The Breakdown Lane” struggles with this while “The Tracks” gives the reader enough time to get to know everyone involved.
The emphasis here is on the life of Chicago, so those familiar with the setting may get more out of the selection. But even those unfamiliar with the time and place will find common ground with these stories. The slice-of-life scenarios and pop-culture references show the angle on everyday life that any New Yorker can relate to. And it’s a welcome indication that there was a gay life to be had outside the areas of New York and California.
*Editors Note: A previous version of this article incorrectly titled the book as Liberty Avenue: Chicago Stories. Living Out apologizes for the error as the book is titled Lincoln Avenue: Chicago Stories.
By Christopher Boire