I bought Jean Thompson's City Boy years ago, but it was one of those novels that just sat on my shelf and kept getting pushed aside - but oh, how I wished I had picked up this one sooner!
"City boy" Jack Orlovich longs to become a writer, so he moves with his wife Chloe from the suburbs of southern California to the bustling mecca of Chicago to pursue his dream. The novel opens with Jack and Chloe moving into a new apartment and encountering a slew of oddball neighbors. We get an immediate glimpse of the dynamic between Jack and Chloe, who seem to have a somewhat typical and cliched marriage - abundant with arguments, affairs, and romantic episodes that are few and far between.
Although Jack is the voice of the novel, it's really the supporting characters in City Boy that give the novel its "oomph" factor. Chloe is compelling by default as a beautiful, doomed girl with mental instability. Then there's Ivory, a sadistic crippled girl who madly covets Jack sexually. Although City Boy features a few other eccentric characters, this novel mainly feeds off the relationships between Jack and the two women.
All in all, City Boy is really about Jack's journey to becoming a writer while experiencing a life we're all too familiar with. The synopsis sounds pretty simple and basic, but it's Thompson's prose and talent as an author that brings this story to life with a lot of color.
I love the quirky and freakish tone of City Boy, and how it reminds us that crazy things can happen to us at any time in our lives. There's an unforgettable sick accident involving fireworks and loss of limbs, and a gritty, disturbing affair between Chloe and her nasty, disgusting, and obese colleague. We watch Jack and Chloe's marriage fall apart, and we're able to recognize exactly why it does. Readers will be able to realize that the relationship between Jack and Chloe could have been made intensely beautiful had they only communicated with one another, and demonstrated simply acts of love and caring. Not unlike some of our real-life relationships that have fallen apart.
City Boy is a trainwreck, but a bittersweet one at that. I remember feeling appreciative of the loved ones in my life after reading City Boy, while also realizing that if things just don't work out between a couple, there are still many, many available and worthy fish in the vast, wide sea!
City Boy is simply pleasurable, charming, and fun. It's not too heavy, and just witty and sarcastic enough to keep you addicted until the end. I'm really hankering to read more novels by Jean Thompson.
Jack's naivety in City Boy reminds me of Scat's in Syrup by Max Barry. If you enjoy novels like City Boy, then you absolutely need to check out Syrup, too!
Other novels by Jean Thompson include Wide Blue Yonder, The Year We Left Home, and The Humanity Project.
Click on any of the images of the books below to review them in more detail on Amazon.com.
Have you read any novels by Jean Thompson, and if so, what did you think? Share your thoughts with us in the comments section below.