By Jeff Jensen
Updated November 14, 2003 at 05:00 AM EST

Stuart Dybek’s South Side of Chicago is a bleak and luckless landscape, populated by hardscrabble folk, psycho Mobsters, and wandering bag ladies. On TV, the Cubs are always losing. A heartbreaking place — unless, of course, you live there. I Sailed With Magellan is a series of interconnected stories told by one such native, now grown. All are gems; each glistens with Dybek’s spare poetry; combined, they form a vibrant mosaic about a boy’s coming of age.

”We Didn’t” recounts a sexcapade on the beach that’s interrupted when a corpse washes ashore. In ”Song,” a goon-turned-music instructor parades his students through a particularly rough quarter to impress his girlfriend. ”Breasts” is a surreal, elusive beauty, wherein the lives of a bartender, a vicious hood, and a department-store detective pivot on an arm wrestle. ”I forgot how sometimes I f—ing hated it here,” says one character. But by ”Magellan”’s end, you’ll never want to leave.