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City Boy    by Jean Thompson Amazon.com order for
City Boy
by Jean Thompson
Order:  USA  Can
Simon & Schuster, 2004 (2004)
Hardcover
* *   Reviewed by Sally Selvadurai

James and Chloe find each other at university. They're kindred spirits, madly in love, who go on to wed and live happily ever after or is this just the rabid imagination of Jack Orlovich, a would-be writer and sometime substitute teacher?

Jack and Chloe Chase seem made for each other; Jack has always been a loner, not joining in the usual team games ('Camouflage and dissembling came naturally to him. His real self was in hiding, waiting to emerge in the same way he felt his real life was waiting for him'), who made the decision to attend Northwestern University to get away from 'the boring perfection of the southern California suburbs'. Chloe is also lonely and insecure; as a beautiful woman she feels that people only want to know her for her looks, but inside she's a 'scared little chickenshit ... every time you go somewhere, your chicken heart thinks everybody's watching you and waiting for you to screw up'.

These two young people marry straight out of university, and make the joint decision that Chloe will be the main bread-winner while Jack concentrates on his first book. They settle into their united lives in a not-quite-safe area of Chicago, and the summer heat and new interactions start to take their toll on the couple's relationship. Their upstairs neighbours are a boorish group of pot-smoking air-heads, and the other tenants are a retired, racist bigot who never married and an eighty-something elderly deaf woman, who is not disturbed at all by the loud music and carrying-on in the apartment next to her. Jack's love for Chloe becomes an obsession. He tries to maneuver his way through his huge-scale, conflicting emotions of love and hate, while attempting to steer Chloe away from the evils of the bottle and her own self deprecation.

City Boy was an enjoyable read, the plot moving along nicely. We learnt to feel sorry for Jack, and even for Chloe, but Jack's behaviour was sometimes unpredictable and spiteful. This is probably fairly true of anyone so in love with another person that it eventually turns into a hateful passion.

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