Riveting characterization, a smoldering cynicism, penetrating insights into the human condition: these are the qualities readers expect in Jean Thompson’s writing. City Boy does not disappoint. Thompson has total and immediate control of the characters she creates. She crafts them with incomparable deftness, playing all of her characters, major and minor, off against each other with unique consistency and utter credibility. From start to finish, readers care about the fictional people Thompson molds with such sure conviction and meticulousness.
Jack, a would-be novelist, has married Chloe. The two met during their student days at Northwestern University. Jack has abandoned his job teaching high school English to devote himself to writing. Chloe, fresh out of Northwestern’s M. B. A. program, is ascending the corporate ladder in a Chicago bank. As interesting as the main story becomes, Thompson’s continuing subtext that focuses on the trials and self-doubts creative writers face is equally intriguing and revealing.
Jack’s love for Chloe is strong, much stronger he fears, than her love for him. Straying into a sexual dalliance with Ivory, the girl who frequents the hippie enclave above their flat, Jack suspects that Chloe is having an affair with her married, plump, middle-aged boss. Spying on Chloe, he confirms his suspicions and, in a jealous rage, nearly kills her lover. With that act of violence, he scuttles their marriage. Thompson implies that the more intense love relationships are, the more they are fraught with the hazards that make their survival a virtual impossibility.