Looped by Andrew Winston
There are millions of stories in the naked city, as the cliché goes. People’s lives touch each other in ways no one could dream. The bus driver of the #2 bus you take to work could be the best friend of the women who baby sits your sister’s kids. Your dentist could be the best patron of your neighbor’s father’s hot dog stand. These are the coincidences that Andrew Winston deals with in his first book Looped, which asks the question "What is a community?"
Winston unfurls a tale of Chicagoans at the turn of the millennium in the neighborhood of Rogers Park, weaving the seemingly separate and disparate lives together over the course of a year. With roughly six main story lines and a dozen or so main characters, Winston shuffles the stories of gay, straight, black, white, Vietnamese, lonely, searching, young, old, fulfilled Chicagoans like a deck of pretty cards. Ellen, one half of a volatile lesbian couple, falls for straight-girl Alice. Alice and Brad, band mates with benefits, work at Urbs in Horto, a coffee shop across the street from Elias Kanakes’s Greek diner where Florence Finkel, a newly-widowed Jewish woman who sees visions of her departed husband, eats several meals a day and where Ng Pran hides from bullies and draws. Alphonse delivers Florence’s mail and the mail for Urbs in Horto as well as that of the handsome Nathan and his mercurial boyfriend Robin, who also live across from the coffee shop, and so on…
Ambitious in its scope, Looped ends up with close to 60 characters, most of whom are known only by their first name and appear briefly. The narrative is told in short to medium bursts, dated to show the passage of time. Never following one story line for too long and sometimes abandoning characters for longish stretches, Winston’s story starts slow but picks up steam. After some stiff dialogue in the beginning (“I’m drunk.” “I told you to be careful Ellie. Five chocolate martinis? I swear you have a death wish.” “But I want to celebrate. What better way to mark the end of the millennium?”), the characters settle in and let their traits and personalities come out. Winston’s surprisingly easy touch with the inner lives and habits of his diverse flock is admirable. He switches effortlessly from Ng Pran’s high school crush to Florence Finkel’s reminiscing about how her late husband took care of her so well, and tells each with a true voice.
Winston’s goal was clear. Here were lives that had little in common, were flawed, sometimes floundering and certainly in flux. Take those lives and add something, be it hope, kindness, forgiveness, pain, and loss and the lives change and bend like flowers towards the sun. Everyone in this story made a choice of some kind, and that choice, big or small, changed their lives in a very believable way and joined them, at the end, as community.
Looped by Andrew Winston