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Book Review: And These Are the Good Times

And These Are the Good Times. Patricia Ann McNair. Side Street Press, Inc. Chicago, IL, September 20, 2017, E-book and Hardcover, 172 pages.

Reviewed by Starza Thompson.

As a recent Chicago transplant, I always find it fascinating to read stories about the city. I love learning about old streets, old bars, and old hangouts, thinking about the lives of those who lived here before I called this city home. And These Are the Good Times is a series of slice of life stories that touch on one woman’s history as she spent most of her life in Chicago. Her stories range from talking about her father and her brothers, including the bars they frequented and the places they lived, to remembering particular moments of foreign trips that defined and shaped her life. If the city of Chicago has captivated you as it has me, and if you crave stories about the people who live here, then And These Are the Good Times is a perfect read for you.

McNair takes the personal and precious moments of her life and shares them with her readers as if she were writing in a journal, with her raw emotions and feelings poured over each page. Her father died when she was 15, which she mentions repeatedly. She shares a few memories of him at his favorite bar, enchanting audiences with his many tales, while begrudgingly giving McNair change to feed the jukebox of which he was always suspicious.

The book is filled with such accounts. For example, she tells about her visit to Cuba and sleeping with her escort, then overhearing him talk to his disabled father. She also discusses the letters her mother kept of her ancestors communicating with relatives in America while they were stationed in Korea and provides a story about her brother and how he was bigger than life and yet struggled to survive, among other stories. Throughout these tales, she talks about how her writing has helped her through her life and how it helped her relate to her mother and her ancestors.

McNair is indeed a good writer, and her tales have the potential to enthrall the reader by telling unique stories about Chicago and her life. Yet, many of the stories felt disjointed—they would start with a memory, a slice of her life, and then meander into talking about writing. It felt like she was trying to accomplish two different things with these stories: telling her own personal memories about her life and talking about her experiences writing, but without a structure and strategy in place it made many of the stories feel unfocused and uninteresting. I enjoyed the bits of stories that she provided, but I would have liked this book to either be about her life or be about her writing and not try to be both things at once.

McNair is a creative writing professor at a school in Chicago and her previous short story collections have won multiple awards. She knows writing and she knows Chicago—if this book were a bit more focused, I know it would receive similar accolades.

And These Are the Good Times takes a brief look into the life of a Chicago native and the many interesting times she and her family have had throughout their years in the city. Readers who are curious about Chicago, who love learning intimate details about others’ lives, and who crave raw and deep emotions entwined in quirky and sometimes sad stories will find this book to be an interesting read. 


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