Stuart Dybek’s story from APS 13 , “Four Deuces,” is set in Chicago, a city I have only visited once (for AWP, incidentally). When one shady character, Frank, tries to track down another, Lester, he finally finds him in the Lawless Housing Projects. “They named that right,” Frank comments to his wife. Below is the exchange I had with Stuart about the importance of local knowledge.
AMcP: Is Frank making a joke, or is that the actual name of the project?
SD: There at one time was in Chicago a public housing project that was named after some public figure named Lawless. I forget the exact details but the project was referred to locally as the Lawless Project. However, if that is too distracting, maybe it isn't worth saving and should be cut, as I certainly don't want to stop to explain to the reader that there is/was such a place.
AMcP: I did find the name distracting without your explanation. I'm just one reader, of course, but I worry others would miss the point too.
SD: The actual name for them is Lawless Garden Apartments. (Named after Frank or somebody Lawless.) They're low income housing and everyone in Chicago regards them as a housing project. I don't have to move him there. The there, by the way, is one of the classic African American 'hoods in the city, called Bronzeville, which is Gwendolyn Brooks’s famous neighborhood.
I could simply move him to somewhere notorious such as Cabrini-Green (it was just torn down finally). I am worried about loading the line with too much exposition. It could read: “He moved to the Lawless Garden Projects—excuse me, Low-Income Apartments. Lawless—they got that right.” Or “He moved to Bronzeville, the Lawless Garden Project—excuse me, Low-Income Apartments. Lawless—they got that right.” This is one of those places in the story where you not being a Chicagoan has been very helpful as the story has to be clear for someone who did not grow up in the city.
AMcP: I'm very glad my Chicago ignorance has been useful. Now, I actually think that using the full name, Lawless Garden Apartments, makes it perfectly clear that this is a real place with a ridiculous name. So here's what I suggest. Let's have the line read: "He moved to Bronzeville, the Lawless Garden projects. Lawless—they got that right." (Projects is lowercase so it's clear it's not part of the official name.) What do you think?
SD: I very much like the change you propose about the Lawless Garden in Bronzeville. (I grew up kitty-corner from a huge row housing, rather than high-rise, project that is named Lawndale Gardens. The CHA [Chicago Housing Authority] liked to cram the word garden in wherever they could. To go with the theme in Lawndale Gardens they actually painted the concrete outside each door green.) Much thanks for all your help.