A vet of the city’s live-lit scene, Stielstra discusses in her warm, conversational essays such disparate topics as traveling in Prague and rolling on Ecstasy. She takes some darker turns (writing about her postpartum depression in “Channel B”), but the Rogers Park writer is most memorable making knowing cracks about Chicago winters and the brunch line at the Bongo Room.
It’s been 10 years since the 72-year-old MacArthur “genius” published his last book, a poetry collection called Streets in Their Own Ink. This month, Dybek makes up for lost time with two new anthologies of short fiction. Paper Lantern has the edge; ostensibly about love, its stories run the emotional spectrum and are all written in his signature graceful prose.
Expect comparisons to Gone Girl author Gillian Flynn for the Jefferson Park writer, whose debut mystery novel flits between the perspectives of a sociology professor and her teaching assistant. The Black Hour is a fine addition to the genre, ditching the classic whodunit trope for a twisting psychological puzzle.
The Galesburg, Illinois, novelist chronicles the twilight-year confessions of a widowed Latin teacher whose hernia operation prompts her to reexamine her life. In its best moments, Hellenga’s deceptively simple prose recalls that of Marilynne Robinson (Gilead).
Veering sharply from the first-person kidnapping farce of her first novel, The Borrower, Makkai tackles the mythology of a fictional North Shore mansion turned arts colony. The 36-year-old author whisks you between the 1920s, the 1950s, and the 1990s in this original, surprising bender of a book.