“Zenith City” Offers a Broader Understanding of Duluth

Zenith_City-210“Zenith City” is a collection of stories by former Duluthian Michael Fedo (cousin of former Duluth Mayor John Fedo). The memoir chronicles his time growing up in Duluth, Minn., in the 1950s and 60s.

I enjoyed reading the book. I recognized Fedo’s references to the city’s inferiority complex (which is turning around, now, thank you, with Duluth being named things like Best Outdoors City, etc.), and Fedo’s references to Duluthians’ relationship with their hills, KDAL Radio, dear old Denfeld High, the Flame Restaurant, and the Pickwick.

However, in many instances, Fedo writes about a Duluth with which I am unfamiliar — one where relatives live next door (my parents were the northernmost transplants of their central- and southern-Minnesota families), where the vices and haunts of downtown were nearby (I grew up in more distant Piedmont Heights), and where folk music was popular (I was born about 15 years too late for that).

But that’s all right. The descriptions gave me a better understanding of the place where I live. I especially enjoyed his reminiscences about Don LaFontaine, the famous movie trailer voiceover actor (think, “In a world where….”), his encounter with Louis Armstrong, and with Bob Dylan’s mother. And because of my exposure to this book, I now intend to read “Babbitt” by Sinclair Lewis, who lived in Duluth for a time. (Also because my home economics-major mother once made and served him dinner when she was working in college for a family who entertained him.)

I noticed two punctuation errors: one where closing quotation marks are missing, another where a sentence ends with both a period and a comma. This surprised me since I’ve come to expect better from the University of Minnesota Press. I don’t know if it’s a sign of their quality slipping or of my editorial eye getting sharper with experience.

The only other thing that gave me pause was the repetition among the stories. For instance, we hear that Fedo worked at the local college radio station at least four times throughout, but I suppose this is an artifact of the book being a compilation of stories that were written for other publications. Just be aware it’s not a seamless memoir written in a singular effort.

Earlier this year, I went to an event by Fedo at Duluth Public Library. He read from many of the stories, and afterwards, he and his wife were generous with their time for a discussion with me, a newbie novelist. They were a class act. I highly recommend this book, even to non-Duluthians.

2 thoughts on ““Zenith City” Offers a Broader Understanding of Duluth

  1. Marie, thanks for a great review. Hope you’re making good progress on your novel. I’ll be in Duluth again for a signing at Barnes & Noble around Thanksgiving. Take care.

  2. Gulp. Hello Mr. Fedo. I can’t believe you found my review. I gave one of your books (I bought two) to my mother to read. She loved it! Now I am saving them for my brothers for Christmas (Shhhh…) One of my brothers used to be in radio and music, so I expect he will find “Zenith City” particularly enjoyable. I hope to see you again some day!

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