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Young Lonigan - James T. Farrell, Pete Hamill ”He remembered Sister Bertha saying that God tested you with temptations of sins of the flesh, and if you were able to withstand them you needn’t worry about not getting into Heaven. Ninety-nine per cent of all the souls in Hell were there because of sins of the flesh.
Hell suddenly hissed in Stud’s mind like a Chicago fire. It was a seat of dirty, mean, purple flames; a sea so big you couldn’t see nothing but it; and the moans from the sea were terrible, more awful and terrible than anything on earth.... And all the heads of the damned kept bobbing up, bobbing up. And everybody there was damned for eternity, damned to moan and burn, with only their heads now and then bobbing up out of the flames. And if Studs died now, with his soul black from mortal sin, like it was, well, that was where he would go, and he would never see God, and he would never see Lucy, because she was good and would go to heaven, and he would never see Lucy...for ever.
And Studs was afraid of Old Man Death.”

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William “Studs” Lonigan has just graduated from 8th grade Catholic School and is trying to convince himself and everybody he knows that he will not be going on to High School. He comes from a fairly well to do family. His father owns rental properties. When he brings up the idea of not going on to school it is more about how it will look to the community than the impact it will have on Studs future. He is smart, well liked, and a great athlete all attributes that will help him be successful with further education. At fourteen his understanding of women is rudimentary at best. He is in love with Lucy Scanlan or at least he thinks he is.

”She came out wearing a reddish-orange wash dress which looked nice on her, because she was dark, curly-haired, with red-fair skin, and the dress set her off just right. And she had on a little powder and lipstick, but it didn’t make her look like a sinful woman or anything of the sort. Studs didn’t usually pay attention to how girls looked, except to notice the shape of their legs, because if they had good legs they were supposed to be good for you-know, and if they didn’t they weren’t; and to notice their boobs, if they were big enough to bounce. He looked at Lucy. She was cute, all right. He told himself that she was cute. He told himself that he liked her. He repeated to himself that he liked her, and she was cute. His heart beat faster, and he scarcely knew what he was doing.”

Ahh yes I remember those days vividly when my desires were like an electrical current permanently plugged into some cosmic lightning bolt. I remembering wandering around more animal than man in a dopamine haze wishing I had a girlfriend or at least that a girl would notice me. Well Studs does better than I did.

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”She pursed her lips before she kissed him. It was so sudden, and her lips had such a sweet, candy taste that he was pleasantly surprised and stood there, not knowing what to do or say. He had never kissed sweet lips like that before. He faced her, and she was something beautiful anf fair, with her white dress vivid in the dark room. She looked beautiful, like a flame. She pursed her lips, moved closer to him, flung her arms around him, kissed him, and said:
‘I like you!’
She kissed away his surprise, looked dreamily into his eyes, kissed him again, long, and then dashed out.
‘Jesus Christ!’ he said to himself.”

Have you ever had a character that you wanted to just reach down into the bowels of the book and take him by the shoulders and give him a good shake?

I felt that way about Studs.

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The 1960 movie was directed by Irving Lerner.

He has everything going for him. He is sensitive enough to notice the world around him beyond the most obvious observable things. He has a girlfriend, almost, who will make the boys in the neighborhood and in the surrounding neighborhoods green with envy. He has a best friend named Helen that understands him better than any boy can expect to be understood at the age of fourteen. The world is just waiting for him to grow up so he can be handed his successful life on a silver platter.

”He wanted to stand there, and think about Lucy....And he goddamned himself, because he was getting soft. He was Studs Lonigan, a guy who didn’t have mushy feelings! He was a hard-boiled egg that they had left in the pot a couple of hours too long.”

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Another byproduct of surging hormones is a feeling of invincibility and a need to prove that you are tough. He starts to hang out with the local punks and deadbeats. He gets into a physical altercation with the neighborhood bully Weary Reilly and I can feel Studs future hanging in the balance. If he wins he loses and if he loses he might just win.

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The Scowling James T. Farrell

James T. Farrell grew up in Chicago, Illinois and did not fare as well as Studs for an upbringing. His parents were too poor to care for him and he was raised by his grandparents. He knows first hand the vernacular of the streets of Chicago and this book brims with the authentic voices of 1916. Farrell was also active in Trotskyist politics and joined the Socialist Workers Party. When he became critical of the policies of the SWP he decided that only capitalism would defeat Stalinism and joined the Socialist Party of America. Despite their differences he did stay in touch with the Trotskyist movement for the rest of his life. This book is the first of a trilogy featuring our hero Studs Lonigan. On the flap of the Library of America edition is some interesting information about the impact of the trilogy on American society.

”His unsentimental depiction of the sex lives of Studs and his companions was shocking to contemporary sensibilities, and the trilogy was attacked and sometimes banned as an offense to morals. Equally disturbing to some readers was Farrell’s relentless questioning of education, home life, and the hollowness and spiritual poverty of the cultural choices offered to his protagonist.”

I am moving right on to book two in the trilogy. I felt that the book lacked a conclusion or at the very least I just wanted something more from the book. The writing is vivid and at times really damn compelling. Maybe Farrell had it in mind to write a trilogy from the very beginning or an editor decided to break the work up into several books. I had a friend caution me that I would like the trilogy better if I read it together so THAT is exactly what I will do. More from the streets of Chicago next week.