Dream City

Dream City

Reviews & Blurbs

"A powerful first novel... set in a faithfully re-created Depression-era Chicago." -- Modesta Zapata, Chicago Magazine

"Terrific... Accomplished..." -- Jeff Salamon, Austin American-Statesman

"It's rare that a novel can affect and haunt the reader to a marked degree, but this one does. Short "Dream"s big. He's one to watch." -- Rod Lott, Oklahoma Gazette

"One of the most impressive first novels I’ve ever encountered... beautiful... harrowing... brilliant... Dream City does exactly what the best novels are supposed to do, change the reader in a way he or she never expected." -- John G. Nettles, Flagpole Magazine (Athens, GA)

“An impressively mature first effort... complex and compelling. The moral dilemmas that can complicate family commitment are presented very clearly here. Highly recommended.” -- Kevin Greczek, Library Journal

"Brendan Short's first novel, "Dream City," is a complex creature. Short successfully weaves together many people's lives, all the while with a keen understanding of how people interact with each other... [The female characters] are vividly drawn, with imperfections and complex motivations." -- Marcus Banks, San Francisco Chronicle

"The characters are expertly developed; even the minor ones are allowed flaws and dreams. And though many of the dreams are abandoned, the tone of the book remains hopeful." -- Julia Thiel, Chicago Reader

"I don't know that I've ever read a more painful reminder of the penalty that comes with a passion for all the wrong things that Brendan Short's Dream City... Short does a really nice job fleshing out the lives of all the ruined souls that [Michael] Halligan brushes up against..." -- Steve Duin, The Oregonian

"A lifespan story, [Dream City] traverses some 70 years through the 20th century...bringing with it vivid images of [Chicago’s] iconic history -- the World's Fair, the Great Depression, the population migration to the suburbs, all studded with snippets of historical realism that bring the past into sharp focus... the story twists around a delightful plot device: the children’s series Big Little Books and the collectors who love them." -- Kay Severinsen, Chicago Sun-Times

Dream City examines the lives of its protagonists with candor and sympathy... The vignette-style moves the book along at a thoughtful pace... In the more poignant moments [the characters] find redemption in each other through sincerity and love.” -- Ben Mirov, The Brooklyn Rail

"A dramatic tale where childhood fantasies contrast with the realities of adult life...[an] epic dreamscape...vast and delicately written." -- Michael Leonard, CurledUp.com

One of "this summer's musts" -- Nancy Stetson, Florida Weekly

"Dream City is a strong debut, hopefully a harbinger of even better things to come from its author." -- Poornima Apte, MostlyFiction.com

"Brendan Short’s Dream City is a great, dark, utterly compelling read, infused with the spirits of the great Chicago Realists — Dreiser, Algren, James T. Farrell. Envisioned by an all-seeing eye and rendered with an steady hand, Short’s Dream City is a place in which the myth of progress collides with the reality of stock yards and routine violence, but in which even the most brutal denizens have their dreams, the most desperate their destinies and the most irredeemable can be redeemed. You can put it down… but not until you’ve finished it. And then you will be haunted by it. Because Dream City is a book that means something." -- David Bradley, author of The Chaneysville Incident, PEN/Faulkner Award winner

"Brendan Short's DREAM CITY is a wonderful novel - beautifully imagined, complexly plotted, sadder than any first novel has a right to be. Like Michael Chabon's THE AMAZING ADVENTURES OF KAVALIER AND CLAY, it cuts to the heart of our attachment to the pop culture artifacts of the past, the solace of old things. It will sneak up on you and break your heart." -- Anthony Giardina, author of White Guys and Recent History

"Brendan Short's first novel is a moving and masterful story about how the imaginative fevers of childhood can burn through an entire life, creating hope, destroying love, kindling dreams. Short is no show-off. His work is unmannered and precise, and he tells his story so invisibly well that when you reach the last page you won't expect to be haunted by it. But you will be." -- Stephen Harrigan, author of Challenger Park and The Gates of the Alamo

Dream City Synopsis

Six-year-old Michael Halligan longs to be a hero. He imagines himself as Mike Steele, Righter of Wrongs, Protector of Women, friend to Dick Tracy, Buck Rogers and the Lone Ranger. But reality pops him on the jaw in 1934 when his mother dies unexpectedly. Michael is left in the custody of his gangster father, Paddy—the kind of man Mike Steele would make mincemeat out of—and tragically loses his faith in the power of Good over Evil. So begins Michael’s obsessive quest through the city and suburbs of Chicago to recapture the purity, security and escapism that defined his boyhood. Dream City chronicles Michael’s adventures through seven decades as he attempts to track down a copy of every Big Little Book in existence, find unconditional love, and make sense of an arbitrary and unkind world.

Dream City is a study in human obsession and resilience. It is an exhilarating tale featuring a colorful cast of heroes, villains and damsels in distress. It delves into the nuances of desire, love, empathy and forgiveness. And it asks that most dangerous of questions: What happens when we finally find what we spend our lives searching for?

You can hear Brendan reading from Dream City as part of the Parlor Reading Series.

Dream City Background

When I was a kid, I collected baseball cards—but not in the way most of my classmates did. While they went to the 7-Eleven hoping to find a 1982 Topps Cal Ripken, I visited card conventions and thrift stores in search of a 1938 Goudey Hank Greenberg. My favorite destination was a rickety collectibles shop one block west of Wrigley Field.

When I started thinking about writing a novel several years ago, that old shop kept popping into my mind. I imagined an older man named Michael Halligan, made him the owner of a store like the one I used to frequent, and gave him something to collect: Big Little Books, little ten-cent novels of Buck Rogers, Dick Tracy and other comic-strip heroes, which were popular with children during the Depression.

As I wrote, the store took on a smaller role and the narrative began to reach back into Michael’s boyhood in the shadow of the Chicago stockyards. The novel also became the story of his mother Elizabeth’s involvement in a populist religious movement, his father Paddy’s dream of owning his own service station, and his mentor Oswald’s desire to transcend his job portraying heroes from the funny papers. The narrative then stretched forward, starting in 1932 and ending in 2004. At the heart of the book, however, remained Michael and his attempts to preserve the impermanent, escape from family tragedy, and provide order to a disordered life through collecting.

The store I used to visit is still there, by the way, looking much as it did a quarter century ago. If you’re ever at Wrigley Field, just head west on Addison. You can't miss it.

Big Little Books

Michael Halligan, the central character in Dream City, is an avid collector of Big Little Books. The definitive online source for information about these beautiful books is www.biglittlebooks.com, which contains a history of Big Littles, a complete listing of titles, and information about the Big Little Book Club. Copies of Depression-era Big Little Books are always available on eBay.

1933-34 Chicago World's Fair

Some of the action in Dream City takes place at the 1933-34 Chicago World's Fair, which was themed "A Century of Progress" and attended by approximately 39 million people. There are some wonderful websites containing information, images, and digitized documents related to the fair. The University of Chicago's Library has a 1933-34 World's Fair Collection, which include some online documents. The Chicago Historical Society offers a decent overview of the Fair, as does Wikipedia's Century of Progress page. This site is one of the best, with a fascinating links page.

Where to Buy

Find an independent book store near you and ask them to order Dream City for you.

Or order Dream City at Powell's, Barnes & Noble or Amazon