I had to read The Octopus by Frank Norris in college but at the time, I was too young and immature to appreciate Norris’ writing talent and I had no interest in the story itself. But I just finished The Pit: The Story of Chicago and I was mesmerized by his ability to paint such clear images through his choice of words and of course, the locale of Chicago kept me on the edge of my seat.
The Pit takes place in the early 1900’s and it is set in the heart of Chicago. I could see every step that Curtis Jadwin and Laura Dearborn took before and after they married. They settled off North Avenue close to the Conservatory in Lincoln Park. She often spent her lonely evenings riding her horse over to the park where she listened to the waves of Lake Michigan for consolation.
Her husband was a financial guru, known as the Unknown Bull who privately controlled the stock market. Wheat was king at the time. He worked at the Board of Trade Center which is located at the south end of LaSalle. Coincidently, my first job in the Loop was steps away so it was easy to envision him going in and out of the building.
The only things that seemed different about places such as The Palmer House or the rumbling of the elevated train was the time and era. The men and women dressed differently and were still traveling by horse and buggy, but the Chicago streets are the same and the gamut of human emotions that the characters felt remain unchanged.
This story, the second of a trilogy, shows how people get so caught up in the game of winning that they lose sight of what is truly important in life. Jadwin controls the stock market and has already amassed millions but cannot let go of the fervor of the chase.
The Jadwins’ mansion is humongous, and they do not even remember all of the rooms in their home. Laura has many gowns, yet she does not have anywhere to wear them all. They have a summer home at Lake Geneva but eventually, they do not have time to get there because Jadwin needs to stay on top of the game of speculating the wheat prices. It gets to the point where he stays in a downtown hotel and does not always go home to Laura.
Invariably, it all begins to come crashing down after Jadwin’s identity is exposed and his dear friend kills himself. Jadwin finally loses all his wealth. As things spiral out of control, Laura seriously considers having an affair with an artist-friend who always loved her.
Jadwin physically and mentally breaks down and after a near-death experience, he vows to start anew. The beautiful, self-centered Laura stops focusing on her own personal needs and nurses her husband back to health. The Pit closes with him and Laura leaving Chicago and heading out west to start a new business venture. They have just a little more than the clothes on their backs, but they have finally realized that the greatest of these is love.
Lynn M. December 15, 2018