Max Nutmeg lives in a house on North Ravenswood Avenue, Chicago, with his wife Muriel and a rogues' gallery of assorted relatives. Everything changes, however, when Max finds Loretta's wallet and, against all reason, returns it. By the winner of the National Book Award for "Paco's Story".
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Max Nutmeg is a very small-time Chicago con man, patriarch of a large and extended family of predictably lovable scuzzballs. Max's new scam is penny-ante but cumulatively lucrative: well-dressed and with an empty gas can in his hand, he stops people in the street and gives them an oh-so-sincere story about having run out of gas and having left his wallet at home. He embroiders the story at whim, and does okay. More than okay when a woman who gives him a dollar also drops her wallet and doesn't realize it. Inside are $800 plus credit cards plus an incriminating love letter. Max senses that his ship has come in, thanks to Loretta Spokeshave's loss - and his attempts to return the wallet power the rest of the very thin story here. What Heinemann (the National Book Award-winning Paco's Story, 1986, etc.) seems really interested in, though, is a Runyon-esque or Studs Terkel-ish paean to my-kind-of-town-Chicago; the book is little more than a collection of lowlife, inverted-snob details that sometimes are cute (good description of an O'Hare-area bar featuring female Jell-O wrestling; the off-camera mores of Wrigley's bleacher hums) but more often just cutesy (as in never mentioning a street name without giving its pedigree: "Western Avenue, the longest street in the city, was so named because at one time it was the city limits; and Granville was named for Granville Temple Sprout, one of Chicago's first teachers, though experts differ and no one seems to know why the city used his first name"). Passably diverting for a local magazine market, but, in covers, it reads at the same time over- and under-strenuous, flat, and simply unfunny. (Kirkus Reviews)