Following Tommy tells the story of the O'Days, two young brothers living in an Irish American, working class neighborhood on Chicago’s West Side in the 1960’s. As thieves they are the bane of the neighborhood until the arrival of the first African American family.“Following Tommy,” is a powerful, mesmerizing debut novel by Bob Hartley. Sharp-edged and honed to perfection,Following Tommy tells the story of the O'Days, two young brothers living in an Irish American, working class neighborhood on Chicago’s West Side in the 1960’s. As thieves they are the bane of the neighborhood until the arrival of the first African American family.“Following Tommy,” is a powerful, mesmerizing debut novel by Bob Hartley. Sharp-edged and honed to perfection, this novel takes us back to the Irish ghetto of the West Side of Chicago in the early ‘60’s. These characters pack-a-punch to the gut: tough, perceptive and shrewd. An unforgettable read.—Meg Tuite, author of Domestic ApparitionIn Hartley’s novel, set in the heartland of America, we dive deeply into disturbing pathos of intriguing and relatable characters. His keen narrative balances so the lively dialogue, and we feel we know, or at the very least, can relate to so much of his book. I urge you to read this remarkable debut, “Following Tommy.”—Robert Vaughan, editor of Flash Fiction Fridays...
|Number of Pages||:||104 Pages|
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Following Tommy Reviews
Posted today! My review of FOLLOWING TOMMY by Bob Hartley (his real name! AND he's set the novel in Chicago!). It's a solid, entertaining, short novel about a time the USA was in serious upheaval on every imaginable front.Very much worth the read. Give my review a look at The Small Press Book Review.Reposting entire reviewRating: 3.5* of fiveThe Publisher Says: Following Tommy tells the story of the O'Days, two young brothers living in an Irish American, working class neighborhood on Chicago’s West Side in the 1960’s. As thieves they are the bane of the neighborhood until the arrival of the first African American family.My Review: This first novel has the virtue of brevity. The language Hartley deploys in service of his story is a model of concision. The story the author tells is, to my ears, honest and true and quite devastatingly probable. The two O'Day brothers are mildly violent, badly educated petty criminals. The working-class Chicago they inhabit is divided between churchgoers and wise guys, and they are the latter, to their mother's despair. Her early death deprives the boys of nothing in the way of guidance, as they are in their late teens at the time. Her contribution to the story is minimal, so the reader doesn't miss her either. This is probably a function of the shortness of the book.Perhaps my less-than-ecstatic response comes from my inability to relate to Jacky, our first-person narrator. He's a straight teenaged hooligan whose desire for and discussion of the girls he masturbates while imagining grated on me. It might also be that I internalized more completely than I'd like to examine the class prejudices of my family and regard the "family" of drunks and hooligans that the O'Days represent with lips pressed firmly together so as not to curl them, while dismissing these common-as-pig-tracks people with labels like "white trash" and "bogtrotting shanty Irish bastards."Whatever the source of my absence of goodwill towards the book, it took me a month to read its 104pp and I was angry the entire time I was reading it. I suspect that Hartley deserves praise for this, because I responded to the characters as real people, and the story as more of a confession than a novel. Jacky and Tommy commit acts of idiot violence, they get caught and suffer at the hands of a casually brutal neighborhood cop (nicknamed "the Giant"), and while I don't like the cop any better than I like any of the other people, I at least felt he had some purpose in his viciousness that I could relate to if not condone.The evocation of the early-1960s changing world, the one in which African-American people like the O'Days' new neighbors on Menard Street, were at last imagining a better and fairer world was within sight, was painfully spot-on. Hartley gets the sociopath Tommy's response to an African-American family moving into the Irish neighborhood chillingly accurately, at least from the people I've known over the years who had this experience. The fact that I experienced none of it, as I lived in a lily-white world of privilege and watched the race wars on our 26-inch color TV, makes that observation suspect. But Hartley brings me close enough to these yobbos that I can smell their greasy hair and cigarette stink, so I trust that he's got the responses down pat.Encountering the O'Day brothers, then, wasn't in any particular a homecoming experience. It was an outrage. Jacky's passive, follow-the-leader nature caused me the kind of pain that sucking on an alum stick causes...puckery-lipped, tongue-curling, bad-tasting spitlessness. Tommy, the sociopathic shitheel older brother that Jacky follows, evoked the kind of nauseated disdain that I find myself prone to when confronted with blank-eyed hate-filled people. That Tommy's violent actions, escalated to new heights, lead to the conclusion the novel presents is a grim reality of life lived on those terms. That Jacky makes his decision about what kind of life he wants to lead in terms of Tommy and his actions is sadly believable.Hear my passionate disdain for the people brought to life here and decide for yourself what kind of reading experience this short novel will be for you. One thing I am quite sure of: You will not be left indifferent. Angry, perhaps. Not indifferent, not bored. That is a lot more than I can say for most books I'm exposed to. If this debut is a reliable indicator of Bob Hartley's intended career path, his writing will earn him a following among the Jim Thompson and Donald Ray Pollock fans.This work is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-ShareAlike 3.0 Unported License.
I recently read and thoroughly enjoyed Bob Hartley’s second novel ‘North and Central’ and was keen to read this, his debut novel, however I was finding it difficult to find a copy here in Scotland. Thanks to the wonder that is ‘social media’, Bob himself contacted me and pointed me in the right direction and I was able to buy a paperback edition from the States.‘Following Tommy’ tells the story of the O’Day family who live in an Irish/American neighbourhood on the west side of Chicago, in the early sixties. Tommy is the elder brother and he and his younger sibling Jacky, who is the voice of the novel, live with their alcoholic father Junior, following the death of their mother. Along with their cousin ‘Hippo’ they earn a living by thieving and running various scams. Tommy is the leader and following a stint in prison, returns a different person. Jacky goes along with Tommy’s schemes but does so with misgivings but also to try to temper Tommy’s wilder urges and also to avoid a beating from him if he chickens out. When a black family move into the neighbourhood, Tommy sees an opportunity to try and raise his profile in the community by ousting the family but Jacky senses his brother is getting out of control and must decide where his loyalties lie.I very much enjoyed this novel as Hartley captures perfectly the dilemma faced by Jacky who wants to keep in his brothers good books but also sees that what Tommy is doing is mortally wrong. Jacky is no angel himself and is prone to a bit of a swagger when things go his way but unlike his brother, some of the locals can still see some good in him and try to appeal to that side of his nature. This is also a coming of age story where Jacky finds himself a girl and he also must decide which path his future will take him.I seem to have discovered a few novelists that are new to me this year and Bob Hartley is definitely right up there with my favourites.
Bob Hartley's debut novel "Following Tommy" is a deft dive into an Irish neighborhood in Chicago in the 1960's. It is the story of Jack, whose life is slowly being crushed by poverty, his alcoholic father and crazy older brother Tommy. He follows Tommy where ever he leads - into burglary, vandalizing and intimidation. But Jack is a reader and he is falling in love. When Tommy's actions escalate and Jack takes the heat from the local cops, suffering a terrible beating he starts to realize this may not be the way his life should go. Hartley's language is extraordinarily expressive. Try not to drool when Jack makes a huge dinner for the family after a particular heist. And try not to cringe when he is being beaten by the cops. When a black family moves into town and Tommy tries to gain political friends by threatening the family it is the flash point that finally begins to turn Jack from a follower into his own person. The conclusion feels a bit rushed, but here it is the journey that matters and the journey is well worth taking.
Following Tommy by Bob Hartley is a gem of a book: hard, brilliant and valuable.It tells the story of Jacky O'Day, a bookish teen who lives in a changing Irish neighborhood in 1962 Chicago with an alcoholic father and a troubled older brother, Tommy. All of them live in the devastating aftermath of the early death of the woman in their life, the clear-headed mother and wife who had kept the three on the straight and narrow. Without her, Jacky follows Tommy into his forays of petty crimes, as if that is the only viable path through their hardscrabble world. When Tommy's crimes grow more violent, though, Jacky begins to question their relationship and himself.Hartley delves into questions of identity and race, and offers a dramatic portrait of how a specific kind of Chicago neighborhood operates, with and against the law.Through it all, Hartley's clear, concise prose remains unflinching and cutting at times.The slim volume from the independent publisher Cervena Barva Press is highly recommended.
I read this wonderful book by first-time author Bob Hartley in a day and it wasn't what I expected. Older brother Tommy is a street thug in Chicago of the 1960's and his younger brother Jack follows him into what looks to be a life of crime. The characters come alive as does the Irish neighborhood complete with the stereotypical Irish cops. Bob is our neighbor here in Lawrenceville a suburb of Pittsburgh and I wonder how much of our community he put in the book? For example was the drunk former sailor who would sweep storefronts for beer based on Russian John who would sweep in front of Hambones for ber? Good job Bob. Can't wait for the next one.
This is a great debut from author Bob Hartley. I found the story gripping and the characters engaging and relatable. Following Tommy is moving and insightful, providing a window into a charged period in American race relations as well as into the murky territory of the human heart. An enjoyable read. Highly recommended.
I found the relationship between the two brothers in this book both touching and frustrating. Part loyalty, part dependence, part habit. I found the end to be very disquieting. I think this would be a book group read that would generate some good discussion.
(Reprinted from the Chicago Center for Literature and Photography [cclapcenter.com]. I am the original author of this essay, as well as the owner of CCLaP; it is not being reprinted illegally.)Regular readers will know that CCLaP has been behind on book reviews for just about a year now (a lag we're finally about to close, thanks to our full-time review staff expanding from one person to four this year), and that means especially that a number of great little smaller novels haven't gotten the attention around here they deserve; take Bob Hartley's fictional coming-of-age tale Following Tommy, for example, which won't exactly blow anyone away but is a good, solid, charming look at life among lower-class Irish-Americans in the pre-P.C. early 1960s. And that's an important thing to know about this book before starting, that its rough-and-tumble characters living on the gritty west side of Chicago don't pull any punches here, and that in fact a major part of the plot involves an examination of the rude ways that race relations sometimes played out in these environments. But this is also in the Nelson Algren wheelhouse too (speaking of rough-and-tumble Chicagoans in the early '60s), a funny and endearing look at the daily highs and lows of one such Irish teenager, as he struggles with conflicting feelings about his family, confusion over the opposite sex, and the constant trouble he and his buddies are always getting into with the corrupt cops in their neighborhood. A small, fast-moving manuscript that speaks volumes about the second-generation big-city immigrant experience, the author's lack of personal connection to this milieu makes it all the more impressive, ultimately a historical book but that feels like it was written by someone who was actually there. It comes generally recommended today, and especially to those who enjoy well-done bildungsromans.Out of 10: 8.2, or 8.7 for fans of coming-of-age stories
Story if two bad brothers and their cousin growing up on Chicago's west side. Good first effort from this author.