Blue in Chicago is my first dive into the work of Bette Howland as tragically this is the only work of hers available in the UK, with recent noise of W-3 soon to be published. This book pulls together the bittersweet short stories of this remarkable American writer, often regarded nomadic and retreating. Hailed as a major talent before all but disappearing from public view, this tenderly compiled collection restores her interesting voice to our shelves.
Bette Howland was an outsider: an intellectual from a working-class neighbourhood in Chicago; a divorcee and single mother, to the disapproval of her Jewish family, she was a writer chipped away at by poverty and self-doubt, which is perhaps why we’ve not heard of her until 2020. Her stories reveal a passionate commitment to the lives of ordinary people and the humble grace of the everyday.
From city streets to the hospital to the public library to the mundane family outing, her literary prose and dry humour adds insight with every page, though I admit there were moments that I became lost in it, oft so draped in description that it was sometimes impossible to pull yourself out to understand the wider picture.
However detailed, the prose is wonderful to indeed get lost in and I’m keen to move onto W-3 after getting a sense of her style with Blue in Chicago. She presents very different tales to Chicago than those we are perhaps well acquainted with, and personally, I am always intrigued by unique voices that open the doors to the tales of the polarized and everyday figures, and working class lives. I look forward to more of this with W-3.
Blue in Chicago is available now, published by Picador