During a deadly Chicago heat wave that’s claiming hundreds of lives, Robert, who’s stuck in his apartment alone, fears he’s going to be the next victim. In the apartment above him lives a shell-shocked Vietnam veteran who talks obsessively about the corpses of his war experience while alternately listening to Die Meistersinger and Madama Butterfly.One day, Robert venturesDuring a deadly Chicago heat wave that’s claiming hundreds of lives, Robert, who’s stuck in his apartment alone, fears he’s going to be the next victim. In the apartment above him lives a shell-shocked Vietnam veteran who talks obsessively about the corpses of his war experience while alternately listening to Die Meistersinger and Madama Butterfly.One day, Robert ventures forth into the searing heat to gas up his car. Immediately he encounters enigmatic Lucy who is trying to escape her brutal fiancé, Matthew Gliss. On a whim, Lucy invites Robert to her apartment where she shows him her mysterious tattoo and tells him of her dangerous life with Matthew Gliss. She warns Robert that if Matthew ever catches them together he should run, not walk, because Matthew won’t think twice of killing him.So begins the risky, short-lived relationship that leads to a chilling climax. Each of Robert’s increasingly hallucinatory recollections of what happened during the heat wave leads him to profoundly question his own culpability....
|Number of Pages||:||206 Pages|
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Beautiful Piece Reviews
(Reprinted from the Chicago Center for Literature and Photography [cclapcenter.com]. I am the original author of this essay, as well as the owner of CCLaP; it is not being reprinted illegally.)The beauty of genre work is also its curse, and the thing that mostly defines it as a genre piece to begin with; namely, almost all stories written within a certain genre are nearly identical in their generalities, with it being all about the tiny little details when it comes to a fan of that genre liking this particular title over that one, and with non-fans of these tropes simply out of luck altogether. I was thinking about this all over again recently, in fact, while reading through Chicagoan Joseph G. Peterson's new noir tale Beautiful Piece; for while it's perfectly fine for the stylish crime thriller it is, the book is exactly and precisely that and not the tiniest smidge more, essentially padding out a single-sentence plot into an entire manuscript (nervy loner has affair with beautiful femme fatale whose gun-toting boyfriend is violently psychotic), and not even bringing anything original to the writing style that wasn't already perfected in the genre way back in the 1940s. As such, then, it's one of those well-done but largely forgettable tales that litter the genre shelves, one that goes down like warm butter but that leaves just about as much of a lasting impression too, a pleasant weekend diversion for existing noir fans but easily skippable for those who aren't. A middle-of-the-road title, which is why it's getting a middle-of-the-road score today.Out of 10: 7.9
"On page 66 of Chicago author Joseph G. Peterson's fabulous and hallucinatory noir Chicago heatwave novel Beautiful Piece he writes, "Life is repetitious. Oh, I know. That's what I love about it." Which he then repeats several times. And that's the thing about this novel, the scenes and dialog endlessly repeat, constantly circling back and collapsing into themselves, while slowly releasing more and more details and expanding on what you think you know as the story both soars and grinds towards what will clearly be an ending that can't be good for anyone involved."
This is a simple story made into a complicated one by repetition, which often made it difficult to read. But ultimately the repetition really made me think, and really strengthened the book. The basic story is of a young man named Robert who is wandering aimlessly through life, and drifts into an ill-fated relationship with a young woman named Lucy, who takes Robert back to her place one day despite having a long-time fiancee who may or may not be a psycopath. Robert also has three friends, the placid family man Epstein (whom he admires as an ideal), a grizzled, bitter Vietnam veteran (known only as "the Vet") who is much closer to Robert's reality, and a fatherly bartender named Addison. And that's basically the entire plot.Robert ceaselessly repeats phrases, conversations and incidents from his middling life, which I often found exasperating when I wasn't in the right frame of mind. But after a while I realized that the repetition makes perfect sense: repetition fills up the enormous empty spaces of his life, and also perpetuates his state of entropy by obsessing over the past instead of moving forward. But it's not just Robert who is prone to repetition - Lucy, Epstein and the Vet all share that weakness, and it's telling that Robert surrounds himself with similarly directionless people, none of whom prod him very much to get on with his life. Addison also reguarly praises him for how well his life is progressing, while it's obvious to the reader that Robert isn't progressing at all. In short, Robert surrounds himself with enablers who keep him stuck in a rut. He's so prone to stasis that when he finally makes a decisive act at the very end, it's one that is poorly thought out and undoubtedly catastrophic.Many commenters I've seen online have objected to the book being characterized as noir, with all of the preconceptions that come with the genre. But despite the constant presence of a gun - a Glock - I don't think this is noir at all. Instead, it's a psychological character study of an obsessive individual. I think the story goes down a lot easier if it's read within that context, instead of as noir.
I saw someone on the train with this book and I found the quote on the back intriguing "A Gritty Noir Novel Set During A Chicago Heatwave"...and being a lifelong Chicagoan, a lover of most things Chicago and a HUGE fan of noir, I took the leap.The story is a well written noir type story. No doubt. The characters deep and complex. I must admit though, the style of writing, the intentional repetition, was maddening. If I never hear the word fetid or claptrap again I'll breathe a sigh of relief. Actually I'll probably wish I had a glock if I hear those words again (read the book - inside joke).Also, there is nothing in the book about Chicago, technically. I mean if a bartender named Addison is as Chicago as it could get. It could have been Anytown U.S.A. as the backdrop, Anytown U.S.A. with a heat index.With that said, it is an interesting story and I do know I am harsh when it comes to books with Chicago as a character. Perhaps the repetition would work better (for me) in a movie format...and even then I will "walk, not run" to see the movie...but yes, I'd still see it.
This book is the novel's equivalent of the sestina, in a way. It uses repetition throughout, unrolling and rolling back in on itself as a means of unpacking the story. It's also a literary means of portraying how memory actually works, or, at least, inner monologues, where we often tell ourselves the same things over and over, and how we still manage to mix things up. And all this is to tell the story of an event, moreso than a series of events, becoming meditative and introspective as the story stretches and retracts, stretches and retracts.This is a book for those that love form. I wouldn't necessarily call this book noir, however, as the blurb claims; but, the voice resembles noir in its terseness, its minimal use of adjectives and "prettified" language, and how it's direct in all manners--except, of course, in what really happens here. As, despite all the repetition, despite all the introspection and examination, you are going to have to figure this one out on your own.Or that could just be me. Because I'm stupid. Everyone knows that, tho.
Billed as "noir" but didn't fit the bill, in my opinion. Still, the characters were great—more in line with what I'm reading now ("eeeee eee eeee")—than a "gritty noir" story. Kept me reading, but mostly in the hopes something really weird and terrible was gonna happen. While it's ending is dark, it wasn't unexpected. The other thing that bugged me was the intentional repetition of the writing. It was a pretty overt stylistic gimmick that I was hoping would end up having a purpose—like the narrator was actually going over events in his final moments, or it was somehow being re-lived or something. But it was just a gimmick, I guess. But it made for kind of a cool, rolling rhythm. In all, I enjoyed it.
Joseph G. Peterson, AB’88AuthorFrom our pages (Mar–Apr/10): "During a brutal Chicago heat wave, the unemployed and alcoholic Robert meets Lucy at a gas station. They start a dangerous affair that, if discovered, could enrage her gun-wielding fiancé. This noir-style novel about a lonely man’s relationships is the first in the Northern Illinois University Press’s series dedicated to Midwestern fiction."