'Chicago was big on gab in the twenties and thirties, and under the influence of gab you came to feel yourself an insider. Verbal swagger was a limited art cultivated in the Hearst papers by contributors like O. O. McIntyre and Ted Cook. On a higher level was H. L. Mencken, of The American Mercury. Mencken comically expressed the dissatisfaction of intellectuals with the philistinism and comical bourgeois provinciality of the “booboisie” American in the years of prosperity that followed the First World War. He found his largest public among schoolboys like me or village atheists and campus radicals. It seemed to me that he didn’t expect his prejudices to be taken very seriously.'
Well who the hell does?
Soylent Content's Proustian look at the Chicago writers pointed toward the notion of "verbal swagger" as a key element of said writers' style - the sly boisterousness of Bellow, the smirk of Mencken's writer-as-matador pose, the knife in the gut of Dreiser's sincerity (the sort of sincerity that I now think of when I watch Lars Von Trier's Breaking the Waves or Dancer in the Dark) - all point to the swagger of that city's literary world. It's so fitting, I think, that the article is told from the point of view of Philip Roth, one of the many greats of the New York Metropolitan Area literary world (it's not just Manhattan that occupies this world, as Roth, himself, is a product of Newark, NJ, and other members - John Cheever, William Carlos Williams, Jack Kerouac, Allen Ginsberg, and Paul Auster - were residents of Long Island, NY, Paterson, NJ, Hoboken, NJ, New Brunswick, NJ, and Brooklyn, NY, respectively).
It's fitting that Roth tells this tale because Roth embodies one of the two major emotional qualities of the NYC school of writing: the sweet seduction of melancholia, as embodied by Cheever, Williams, and Auster, etc., and the energizing self-deconstruction of fear and anxiety, as embodied by Ginsberg, Roth, and Woody Allen. It's what inspires me about writers like Roth. He gets the sense of ennui that seems to possess the denizens of this region when we drive alone at night or stand alone in the corner of a pulsing night club.
Roth also mentions Sherwood Anderson, author of a favorite of mine, Winesburg, Ohio as being tied to that Chicago style. Actually, Roth mentions that Bellow mentions that... and I do not feel comfortable with that idea. Anderson's writing style is so graceful and compassionate that he never seemed tied into that whole "Big Shoulders" mythos that gets raised by the brutality of Dreiser. For obvious reasons, Anderson can be tied to Thornton Wilder (as both understood community so very, very well), the Wisconsin-born writer who lived in Connecticut. But their soft delivery also seems tied to Carson McCullers or Wallace Stegner, authors who lived in the South (Alabama for McCullers) and the West (California, the Canadian Rockies, and Arizona for Stegner). It's as though that humane sense of tragedy and hope that is particular to American writers - one would never mistake a work by Steinbeck or even the more recent Michael Chabon for the cold intellectual sophistry of Gunter Grass or J.M. Coetzee - exists in spite of the local character of New York or Chicago writing.
These authors - all of them - have that common sense that become the American vernacular. In the regionalization of them, though, something that really seems absent in writing elsewhere, they lay down the foundation for the twang and drawl of Southern writers or the flat clipped tones of the Midwest and New England. All of this leads me to the question of how Norman Maclean developed his flowing poeticism from the rough jagged life of Montana that so greatly influenced him.