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Prairie Avenue by Arthur Meeker Jr.

Prairie Avenue (1949)

by Arthur Meeker Jr.

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This book was a gem that I stumbled across at a used book sale and bought for a quarter. It is the semi-autobiographical novel of a man who grew up on the once fashionable Chicago street - Prairie Avenue and who writes about its rise and fall in Chicago Society of the late 19th Century.

Told in three parts, set ten years apart, the book tells the story of a 12-year-old boy who is sent to live with his aunt, uncle and cousins on tony Prairie Avenue after his feckless father loses his fortune in unwise speculation on the commodities market. There he learns how to socialize with Chicago's upper crust, most especially their neighbors, the Kennerlys (modeled after the Armour meat packing family). Little by little the secrets of the families in the neighborhood, including his own, are revealed and as the years pass by the decline of the neighborhood is a metaphor for the decline of the families of the city's great founding industrialists.

Written in rich detail, this book is a feast for Chicagoans interested in the city's wild and wooly past, as well as fans of novels of manners. ( )
  etxgardener | Dec 27, 2014 |
While this book is a good read with an underlying darker story, it is a tad confusing. If your preference runs to older novels, please read. The story is full of detail and spans a good deal of time, but if you are looking for action or suspense look further. For a book recovered from the local discard bin, Prairie Avenue is not a bad read, but it is not a book I would seek out. I'll probably try to pass it on and see what others think of it. ( )
  mbarrentine | Mar 24, 2011 |
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"Then it's decided," said Mrs. Ramsay. "Ned is to spend the winter with Hiram and Lydia in Prairie Avenue."
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Arthur Meeker, Jr. was the son of the general manager of Armour & Co., who was deeply involved in Chicago business, politics, and society. Much of Meeker's published work focused on the interaction of those aspects of life in Chicago. For his book Prairie Avenue, Meeker drew heavily on the stories he had heard and lived, providing detail that resulted, according to one critic, in such a faithful picture of the times as to be amazing. Source: Chicago Historical Society (ICHi-38216)
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