One Book, One Chicago Spring 2004
- In “Farwell,” the narrator wonders if he will ever leave Chicago. His professor, Bobo, has left many places and done many things. Does growing up necessarily require leaving an actual physical place?
- In the story “Chopin in Winter,” sounds and silences are as important as characters. Who is changed by Marcy’s music? What feelings of hate and love are contained in Mrs. Kubiac’s building? How does music interact with those memories for each character?
- In the story “Blight,” the author wonders if his neighborhood fits the definition of urban blight. Outside the neighborhood, “They’d never know about the music of the viaducts, or churches where saints winked and nodded…” (50) How does a neighborhood acquire an identity—from outside or within? How do Dybek’s characters create their neighborhood identities?
- At the end of “Blight,” Dybek changes his description of his neighborhood from “Official Blight Area” to “Official Blithe Area.” What does he mean? What has changed and in what ways?
- Throughout The Coast of Chicago, longer stories intertwine with short passages. How do these short pieces add to our understanding of the characters and neighborhoods Dybek describes?
- Many of Dybek’s characters are aware of ghosts, silhouettes and spirits that “now wandered free, like dreams escaped from dreamers.” (85) How do the characters’ fears of the supernatural get reinforced by reality?
- Why is the narrator of “Nighthawks” drawn to Edward Hopper’s painting of the same name? Dybek writes, “Perhaps I needed its darkness to balance the radiance of the other paintings.” (95) How do the paintings described mirror the speaker’s feelings of hope and hopelessness?
- The character “Choco” appears in several sections of the book. What has happened to him in the different stories? How does Choco’s final descent into the subway represent a possible outcome of the characters’ choices and possibilities?
- In “Nighthawks,” a kiss flies through the city and the night. Where does this kiss originate and end? Are there any similarities between this kiss and Chopin’s music earlier in the book?
- Many references are made in The Coast of Chicago to the Catholic Church and its neighborhood presence. How do these religious images change as the characters grow up?
- In “Hot Ice,” Dybek writes “Nobody was there; just the wall, railroad tracks, the river and the factories that line it—boundaries that remained intact while neighborhoods came and went.” (133) What are the boundaries that define your neighborhood? How do these boundaries change as you move from childhood to teenhood to adulthood? How do outside influences cause neighborhood changes?
- In many of Dybek’s stories, we hear multiple languages; sometimes spoken between generations, sometimes between friends or within a building. How do various communities accommodate such large cultural differences? When do these differences cause conflict?
- In “Hot Ice,” different characters grapple with grief—over a lost brother, a lost girl, the loss of miracles. Yet Eddie’s attention is held fast by windows. Why do the windows hold the city together in Eddy’s mind? (146). How do windows counteract grief?
- At the end of “Hot Ice,” Eddie and Manny are taking the frozen girl somewhere. Where? Are they really taking her somewhere, or is this all a fantasy built on Antek’s story?
- In “Pet Milk,” the narrator begins with a description of a can of Pet Milk. The story ends with a love scene between Kate and the narrator. In what ways has the narrator found comfort and love? How does the journey on the el take him beyond his neighborhood and childhood?