On impulse, a child stops on the way home from school to pay a relative a visit; Robin’s great-grandmother lives on the 68th floor of a Chicago high rise. Lives? Or lived? And is it 68? Or 86? Out of a child’s confusion come a remarkable series of encounters between youth and age.
K.P. Sandwell, now in her nineties, remembers something of her years in Rio—and relives a time in the late 1930s when she had moved from Winnipeg (“the Chicago of the north”) to Chicago itself, had tried to make a name for herself as an artist, and had found the world seeming to conspire against her. Robin relives again and again a tragic twist of fortune that cannot be changed. In the end, the story converges on the Art Institute of Chicago, where the child makes an extraordinary attempt to reverse another twist of fortune—one that befell K.P. more than sixty years earlier.
Rising Stories is a sometimes wrenching, sometimes amusing, always thought-provoking novel about growing up and growing old; about hope and ambition; about cities and skyscrapers; about the world of the imagination and the world as it is; about love and desire; about what God or good may be; and about death and what we hope or fear may follow.
Much as Rising Stories is extraordinary as a novel, this bound volume is extraordinary in a variety of other ways too. It includes an appendix of twelve fascinating short stories (as told by K.P to Robin) about the building of great skyscrapers. (Both in these short tales and in the novel itself, the text touches on the stories of skyscrapers in New York, Minneapolis, Seattle, various Canadian cites, the Middle East, and China and Malaysia as well as in Chicago; an index of buildings, architects, and engineers is included for ready reference.) The volume also includes a color portfolio reproducing twelve historic postcards of skyscrapers in Chicago, New York, and Seattle.
The recurring pleasure of Rising Stories lies in the subtle interaction between people and buildings, the skyscrapers of Chicago revealing their various personalities as sites for intimate, sometimes harrowing, human stories. An elegant and affecting novel.
Mark Kingwell, author of Nearest Thing to Heaven: The Empire State Building and American Dreams, and of Concrete Reveries: Consciousness and the City
Rising Stories manages to surprise, satisfy and delight all at the same time, as its protagonists—inhabitants of Chicago’s skyscrapers—recount their stories and those of the towering buildings that are integral to them. The narrative is gentle in tone but magisterial in scope, and shies away at nothing, including the death of hope in various forms. “There is never a good reason for not trying to do good,” a dead grandmother cautions, ‘but nor should we assume we will succeed.’ An original and compelling page turner.
Elizabeth Abbott, author of Sugar: A Bittersweet History, A History of Marriage and Dogs and Underdogs: Finding Happiness at Both Ends of the Leash
Rising Stories fuses an ode to the romance of Chicago’s towering skyline with a gripping exploration of the mix of tentative affirmation, quiet desperation, and sometimes, vertiginous loss that characterizes the lives of its inhabitants. Its depiction of a child’s uncertainties and stubborn hopefulness conjures an evocative sense of the enduring humanity that animates this cityscape. Running through all of this is a powerful meditation on the continuing role of art in the face of a seemingly indifferent modernity.
Paul Keen, author of Literature, Commerce, and the Spectacle of Modernity
An exquisitely thoughtful, metaphysical novel about maturation, space, and identity. LePan’s prose is delicate and deceptively simple, but powerful in its ability to expose the gravity of childhood and old-age. … an illuminating and deeply felt book.
Melissa Asher Daniels
A beautiful novel what will tell you as much about the history of urban architecture as about the resilience of art, children, and ghosts. LePan gently but firmly touches on the big issues of the twenty-first century—around gender, race, class, sexuality, and the problems of a changing environment— to probe the human impact of them all. … Rising Stories might make you turn away from the clock, and maybe even lose sleep, to keep reading. … It is worth it as you inhabit lives that emerge from tragedy and you share the possibilities of quiet redemption that can come from painting, community, time travel, and, most of all, storytelling.
Laura Moss, co-author of Canadian Literature in English
Rising Stories: A Novel
Appendix: Twelve Stories, as told by K.P. Sandwell to Robin Smith
The Childs Building
The Wrigley Building
The Mather Building
Dinkelberg, the Flatiron, and the Jewelers’
Schuylers and Smiths
Grant Park and the Chicago Convention, 1968
Spires and Aspirations
The Smith Tower
A Human Scale
The Sears Tower
Portfolio: Skyscraper Postcards