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John McNally 

When: Fri., Dec. 5, 6 p.m. 2008
John McNally has been an English prof down at Wake Forest for a while now, but he still mines his native Chicago for source material. Among the stories in his new collection, Ghosts of Chicago (Jefferson Press), dedicated to the fiction writing department at Columbia College, are some finely crafted homages to Chicago icons: Frazier Thomas considers his deep and dependent relationship with Garfield Goose, Siskel and Ebert get into a nasty wrestling match in the snow after a movie, Walter Payton and the Fridge bond on a road trip. Other imaginings of beloved personalities are more unsettling: Romper Room’s Miss Betty, for instance, binges on drugs and has a lesbian affair. (Maybe because James Frey isn’t dead yet, his name doesn't appear in the one where a truth-fudging memoirist coming from an Oprah-esque talk show has a run-in with a club of people who know people who've hanged themselves and believe the author deserves to be hanged.) But most of the stories are straight-up fiction, set in Chicago but involving characters who never would have been famous: an only child whose only interest is monster movies tries to deal with his mother's pregnancy, a man loves a woman who loves a death row inmate, a butler serves a low-tier superhero called Silverfish (or thinks he does). The piece that closes the collection, "Contributor's Notes," is alone worth the price of the book; it's the flat-out funniest story I've ever read about writers. —Jerome Ludwig

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