by Saschk Drakos
Bob Hartley’s debut novel, Following Tommy, tells the story of young Jack O’Day living in a 1960s Chicago working class neighbourhood. The arc carries elements of a coming of age tale, while also centring on the racial tensions of the era.
It’s difficult to know what to say about this novel. At just over a hundred pages, it’s a quick read. The characters seem to fill in the usual slots expected for an Irish American family – the alcoholic father, the virtuous and dead mother, the brutish older brother, the cop/pub owner who is inherently corrupt and unscrupulous. Jack, himself, seems to vacillate between being your run of the mill delinquent and a sensitive kid trying to do the right thing. I would have liked to see a bit more depth to the characters, and further characterisation to explain their actions.
I also felt that the narrative itself needed more authenticity. Despite taking place in the summer of 1962, the tone and attitudes expressed by the first person narrator are belied by an almost apologetic 21st century sensibility. Hartley, as well, seemed hesitant to really push past conventional boundaries to convey the gritty and hard world he wanted us to believe we were in. I think, however, that if the author can shake that self-consciousness he has the potential to produce some powerful work.