Childhood and Other Neighborhoods

by Stuart DybekViking Press, $9.95
As the title suggests, children occupy most of the stories in this volume. Lest that fact make potential readers wary, it should be noted that these tales in no way resemble the narcissistic “sensitive young man" stories that are the staples of many literary magazines and of writers’ workshops everywhere. Dybek is an original.
The landscape of the book is a stylized, half-fantastic version of ethnic Chicago, full of eerie, secret regions oblivious to the city around them: a remote dump where a strange army of ragmen camp, a series of back streets nicknamed “the Alley of Heartaches,” a railroad bridge known as “the Black Angel.” For Dybek’s children and young adolescents this is truly an underground, and their adventures in it take on a quality of fable or myth. One could say of most of these stories that they are about the lessons of growing up, but the ideas in them do not draw attention to themselves; the stories are the ideas. All are dramatic and some are grotesque, but Dybek does not confuse violence with narrative power, and every story is relieved by comedy and precise psychological observation. Childhood and Other Neighborhoods does exactly what a first book should do—it introduces us to a fresh voice.