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Hot Ice
by Stuart Dybek

Field-Tested by George Saunders

at the Chicago Public Library, Chicago, Illinois

The most intense reading experience I've ever had was reading Stuart Dybek's short story “Hot Ice” in an issue of Antaeus in the Chicago Public Library common room in the early winter of, I think it was, 1985. I'd gone to the library to prove to myself, once and for all, that all contemporary writing was crap, so I could return to my slavish imitation of Hemingway + Kerouac + Thomas Wolfe.

The Dybek story is set approximately in my father's old neighborhood in Chicago — the first time I'd ever read fiction set somewhere I actually knew. The effect was new, shocking — a different taxonomy of response. Hemingway was musty, black-and-white — there was a kind of nostalgia at work in my reading of it. But this was different, and a door flew open in my head. I was sweating, my face was red, I kept putting the book down, going: This can't be this good this can't be this good. But it was, and to my credit, I saw it, and didn't deny it. I felt I'd come to the edge of an unknown, superior continent, after lingering too long on the boat. And that afternoon changed my life.

George Saunders is an assistant professor at Syracuse University. He is the author of Civilwarland in Bad Decline, The Very Persistent Gappers of Frip, Pastoralia, The Brief and Frightening Reign of Phil, and In Persuasion Nation.

Buy Childhood and Other Neighborhoods (Stories by Stuart Dybek)

Read the next Field Test by Tobias Seamon

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