“Frankie Coolin” Bill Granger’s Gem

When the writers who are Chicago’s eternal gift to literature gather in the smoky dark spilled beer taverns of heaven to share their best work, Bill Granger will be bringing along Time For Frankie Coolin. Granger left us with a bunch of terrifically entertaining, solid stories. The November Man series — even with the marketing mischief done in the reissues in changing titles and making a horrible movie–will stand the test of time. But it’s Time For Frankie Coolin that will earn Granger a place at the table with the masters.

I first read the book in 1982, the year it came out and around the time it takes place. Back then, I knew enough to put it on the shelf next to my favorites. But I couldn’t tell you why. Now in 2014, having just read the reissued book, I can tell you why it spent all those decades on the shelf next to James T. Farrell’s Studs Lonnigan, Richard Wright, Algren, Royko, Bellow, Bill Brashler and Studs Terkel.

First, because of the pitch perfect dialogue. This quiet gem of a book is a series of conversations that masterfully tell the story of that time and place. Which means that they are not always pretty. But they are always authentic. They show the way people talked to each other. The racism (or the pretzel logic denial of racism) rising up today in the national psyche was also bubbling over in 1970’s Chicago when this story took place. So racism was part of the conversation. Woven into the fabric of the character’s lives.

But it’s the full spectrum of eternal themes like family, loyalty, hard work, craftsmanship and flat out love, that run beneath these conversations and make the book quietly resonate 32 years later.

The title of the book carries all sorts of meanings. Frankie has the specter of jail time hanging over his head. His “crime” being that he is part of a family, a culture and yes—a time. All this set against the question, where does all the hard work, the hustle, doing the right thing, where does it lead? And if you don’t ask questions, if you don’t share, where does that get you? Granger’s genius is the realism shown both by what is said and often more importantly, what isn’t said.

Time For Frankie Coolin is not for everyone. No car crashes or terrorists or sexy conspiracies.

But in these times of racist horror shows, the disappearing middle class and all the changes in what it means to be a family, maybe this book is just what the world needs again.

Especially in the pauses, the silences in conversations when so much is left unsaid.

If you choose to listen, you’ll find that in Time For Frankie Coolin, Bill Granger left the world a gift. Like all the great writers do. Because in this book, Granger started a conversation.

Like the one we just might need today.


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