Friday, February 16, 2007

A mystery meat lasagna

"Resurrection Mary: A Ghost Story" by Kenan Heise is an honest-to-goodness, no-lie, biblio-cafeteria special - Mystery Meat Lasagna.

I picked up this book first because of the title. I love the Resurrection Mary story. I love Chicago. This book is all about both. The second reason I picked up this book is , the author, Kenan Heise. He is a Chicago landmark in his own right. His stories of Chicagoland gangsters are excellent. His travelogues are mandatory companions for first time visitors. He honed his writing skills over thirty years in the newspaper trade covering Chicago - a great deal of that time he spent as the Tribune's chief obituary writer.

The parts of this book that really work are rooted in the author's knowledge of his city and in his writing style. There are layers of brilliant travelogue in this book that turn Chicago and its suburbs into living, breathing characters. There is a secret "To understand Chicago" that Heise explains on page 83 that is an absolute truth, and certainly worth a sneak peek when you find this book on the shelf. The book's tight journalistic prose makes for a fast read.

What doesn't work in this story is the same thing that doesn't work in mystery meat lasagna. The story is strangely structured, at times disconnected, and a little soupy. It's got a full measure of cheese in every helping by wandering away the facts of the title character's story and the strengths of the genre.

Resurrection Mary is Chicago's most famous ghost. The countless retellings of her story have turned her into a legend. The strange thing about legends of any genre is that while the details may vary through their retelling, there are certain parts of the story that are sacred. Those essentials make the myth what it is. They can't be violated - under any circumstances - or the story is simply ruined. How important are these "sacred essentials" to mythic stories? Let's see ... It would have been a forgotten statistic in a baseball game if not for Babe Ruth pointing to the outfield and calling his home run shot in the fifth inning of Game 3 of the 1932 World Series. It would have been just another stupid question and answer session in yet another White House press conference if not for Richard Nixon's jowl-waggling exhortation "… people have got to know whether or not their President's a crook. Well, I am not a crook." What would the story of the Alamo be without William Travis drawing "a line in the sand" with his sword? Could you leave out Davy Crockett, Jim Bowie, or the eventual death of all the defenders of the Alamo?

The real Mary of the Resurrection Mary legend comes from the early 1930s. She was a pretty, blonde, blue-eyed innocent. She dressed up to go out. She enjoyed dancing. After a bad experience with a date one evening, she walked away from Willowbrook (O Henry) Ballroom. While walking along Archer Avenue, she was struck by a car and killed. She was buried in her dress and dancing shoes at Resurrection Cemetery in Justice, Illinois, a few miles west of Chicago. Since then, people sometimes report picking up a young female hitchhiker matching Mary's description who asks for a ride to the dance hall or home from it. She disappears (harmlessly) mysteriously when she is near Resurrection Cemetery.

It was a very, very sad surprise to find in Kenan Heise's fictionalized retelling of Mary's story that she was awkward and did not know how to dance (page 131), died from ingesting rat poison at age 15 (page 132), and then became a bloodthirsty, sex-charged specter (page 147).

So, the next time a hankering for mystery meat hits, go with an old standby instead ... meatloaf.


Katie said...

Don this was a great review too bad the book wasn't great as well.


Not too many things worse than ruining a great ghost story. For shame! Thanks for the warning...
And thanks for your visit to my blog. I appreciate it lots.