Growing up and getting trapped in adult life is something that most people eventually face, but while reading The Fairytale Chicago of Francesca Finnegan, a charming and magical book by Steve Wiley, it is almost possible to forget about the inexorable progress of time. With a main character who is teetering on the edge of forgetting about magic forever, this novel is a touching and thought-provoking ride through nostalgia, memory and the promises of youth. Wiley’s sharp, tongue-in-cheek style of writing makes the pages fly and the Chicago skyline makes a stunning backdrop for this mystical romp.
Richard is the lackluster protagonist who has found himself a slave to work and the monotony of life, but the bizarre life and times of Francesca Finnegan often steals the spotlight, peppered into the story with personal moments and reflections on the past. Readers are taken on a journey through a new perspective of Chicago’s history, and are welcomed into the secret Lavender Line of the Chicago ‘L.’ From minotaurs and sinister wind to cat conductors and drunken elves, this story is a wacky roller-coaster, like the imagination of a child gone awry, but overflowing with clever, chuckle-inducing passages and quips.
At times, the story does veer wildly, and it is easy to suspect that the author has truly gone off the rails, but each time, the narrative manages to pull itself back on track, leaving readers shaking their heads and diving into just one more chapter. If you are looking for a bit of ridiculous fun that still manages to pose a few important questions about growing old without growing up, this story is ideal. Francesca Finnegan and Rich make a strange, but endearing team of adventurers, and the childlike nature of the story has hints of maturity artfully tucked between the sillier moments.
This book is clearly written by someone who knows the heart and soul of Chicago, from the decadent leather of the Green Mill to the dangerous nature of Malort. This book smacks of intimate experience, and a love for a city so great that it has to play a part in the story, as though the streets are characters of their own. The writing also has a brilliant, casual flow to it, similar to the writing of Tom Robbins – never taking itself too seriously, but nailing a point home with perfect prose when the time comes. This is the sign of a writer comfortable in his own style, with an excellent view of the story’s end before deciding what the middle might contain. There is an adventurous and unpredictable tone to every chapter of this book, making it very difficult to put down.
As someone who has spent a great deal of time in Chicago, this reviewer is enthralled by the details and careful consideration of certain passages, but The Fairytale Chicago of Francesca Finnegan does far more than appeal to Windy City citizens. Whimsical stories are excellent avenues for escape, and in that way, Steve Wiley’s book is self-aware, directly addressing the importance of dreams, imagination, and belief in magical worlds that we can’t quite reach – until we need them most.