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April 13, 2012

Fiction on tap: New lit series debuts at Jimmy’s

A handful of Hyde Parkers gathered in a back room of Jimmy’s Woodlawn Tap on Tuesday to hear the work of Adam Levin and Sarah Levine, two Chicago writers who teach in the Art Institute’s writing program. Levin’s Hot Pink, a short story collection, came out early last month, and Levine’s novel Treasure Island!!! was released at the end of 2011.

Levine—small, bespectacled, and clad in black—read for 10 or 15 minutes. Treasure Island!!! is about a young woman who, after reading Robert Louis Stevenson’s similarly-titled novel (no exclamation points), realizes that she needs to take control of her life. Though the protagonist is deeply engaged in Stevenson’s text, Levine explained, she’s also a faulty reader, and her misinterpretations of Treasure Island cause her to further muddle her relationships.

“If you talk to your mother every day, you’re not going to have any adventures,” Levine’s funny, neurotic protagonist muses.

During the question and answer session that followed, she explained, “I like doing readings because sometimes you get to hear how it lands.”

The event was the first in the Seminary Co-op’s “Doppelganger Series,” which it hopes to host monthly. (The similarity of Levin’s and Levine’s last names inspired the series title.) Next month’s Doppelganger reading will feature Dmitry Samarov and Jack Clark, both of whom are cabbie-turned-writers.

“Doppelgangers” was charming, but a definite work in progress. The reading started 30 minutes late, but Levin and Levine’s tardiness went over well with the audience, a group of loyal fans. Still, it’s tough to make 12 people feel like a crowd.

“It’s hard for us to host non-academic events in our stores, so we thought getting into the neighborhood would be a good idea,” said Thomas Flynn, Sem Co-op’s events coordinator. “We’re trying to make it a cool event series, and we’re hoping to make it a monthly thing. If you buy a book, we’ll buy you a beer.”

Levin, also bespectacled, read several short stories from Hot Pink, all of which landed slightly off-center. The first, “Important Men,” began with an extended description of the narrator’s desire to wield a diamond-encrusted cane as a pretend pistol. The second, “Cred,” was a boyfriend’s meditation on his girlfriend’s muffin top—whether he should dump her because of it, or whether he was increasing his chances with future girlfriends because he continued to date the girl with a conspicuous muffin top.

During the question and answer session, Levine commented that upon hearing “Cred,” “You might think this guy’s a dick!”

Despite the small scale of the night, Levin and Levine seemed like good friends, which added to the familial mood in the room. Their work is also undeniably complementary. Both authors’ pieces feature unmistakably modern subjects and predicaments, and both write with an uncanny sense for humor and warmth.

“Do you like to write?” one woman piped up, from a table of six.

“I don’t like not to write,” Levin commented. “There’s something really grounding about crafting sentences,” Levine added. “I really do love doing this.”

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