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David Mamet Looks At Prohibition In Chicago


David Mamet's new novel Chicago. follows a Great War vet and newspaper man, Mike Hodge, hunting down those who killed the woman he loved in the corrupt Windy City of the prohibition era. No surprise, the novel is filled with wonderful dialogue, painting the place and era with it's newspaper offices, burlesque houses, and high tone brothels. I felt very lucky to ask one of our most acclaimed writers a few questions about his book and approach to it.

1. What did you want to explore about your home town during Prohibition?

I didn’t want to explore anything. I just wanted to write about it. It is clear to any casual observer of history that the 18th amendment had the effect of plunging the country into 14 years of unmitigated drunkenness. How interesting.

2. Is there a particular reason you picked the profession of newspaper reporter for your protagonist?

Well, THE FRONT PAGE is the greatest American play. That might be reason enough.

3. I found the book to also be a celebration of language, particularly in the conversations of Mike and his colleague, Parlow, where street dialogue bumps up against a more florid way of speaking. Do you think we've lost something in our current language?

Have we lost something in our current way of speaking? Of course. The variety of vocabularies, like the variety of dialects and accents, stems from isolated or semi-isolated communities. When the entire population shares one common communications medium, speech becomes homogeneous.

4. What kind of challenge does a novel give you that a play or screenplay doesn't and how do you deal with it?

Writing a screenplay and writing a novel are tasks as dissimilar as beating a rug and beating a criminal suspect.

5. Al Capone is discussed often, but only observed in periphery. How did this choice of dealing with him come about?

If we observe the artistry of Misha Baryshnikov, or Glenn Gould, or Louis Armstrong, it becomes clear that beauty consists not in what the artist can add, but in what he can leave out.

6. You are one of our country's most talked about writers. What do most people miss about your work?

I dunno what people miss about my work. They are probably as likely as I am to misinterpret it.

You can order Chicago here