Illinois State Library

Illinois Center for the Book


Individual Author Record

General Information

Name:  Joseph G. Peterson  

Pen Name: None

Genre: Fiction

Audience: Adult;

Born: 1965 in Wheeling, Illinois


-- Twitter -- https://twitter.com/josephgpeterson
-- Website -- http://www.josephgpeterson.com/
-- Joseph G. Peterson on WorldCat -- http://www.worldcat.org/search?q=joseph++g.++peterson


Illinois Connection

Joseph Peterson went to the University of Chicago and lives in Chicago's Hyde Park area. He has published many short stories set in the city.

Biographical and Professional Information

Peterson is a novelist working out of Chicago. His work deals with estranged working-class outsiders who try to find their place in the world, but who often miss it. His work draws from his experience growing up in a working class suburb of Wheeling Illinois and working in factories, restaurants and construction. He currently works in publishing.


Published Works Expand for more information


Titles At Your Library

Beautiful Piece
ISBN: 0875806295

Switchgrass Books. 2009

During a deadly Chicago heat wave that’s claiming hundreds of lives, Robert, who’s stuck in his apartment alone, fears he’s going to be the next victim. In the apartment above him lives a shell-shocked Vietnam veteran who talks obsessively about the corpses of his war experience while alternately listening to Die Meistersinger and Madama Butterfly.

One day, Robert ventures forth into the searing heat to gas up his car. Immediately he encounters enigmatic Lucy who is trying to escape her brutal fiancé, Matthew Gliss. On a whim, Lucy invites Robert to her apartment where she shows him her mysterious tattoo and tells him of her dangerous life with Matthew Gliss. She warns Robert that if Matthew ever catches them together he should run, not walk, because Matthew won’t think twice of killing him.

So begins the risky, short-lived relationship that leads to a chilling climax. Each of Robert’s increasingly hallucinatory recollections of what happened during the heat wave leads him to profoundly question his own culpability.

Inside The Whale: A Novel in Verse
ISBN: 1936679019

Wicker Park Press Ltd. 2011

Inside the Whale: A Novel In Verse is an epic novel in verse that, in the spirit of Beowulf, imagines a bardic drone chanting the mnemonics of rhythm and rhyme to entertain, lyre in hand, a group of ruffians gathered around a keg of beer and the red-hot coals of a dying fire. It tells the timely and timeless story of a self-destructive artist and the tragic consequences he incurs when he sins against his talent.

Wanted: Elevator Man
ISBN: 0875806775

Switchgrass Books. 2012

Balladeer of the city’s broken and forgotten men, Joseph G. Peterson looks for inspiration in urban side streets and alleys, where crooked schemes are hatched, where lives end violently, and where pretty much everyone is up to no good. Depicting the lives of people who have woefully lost their way in the world—criminals and victims, the unemployed and unemployable, the neglected and the indigent, the lonely and the alone—Peterson nonetheless brings a poet’s touch to his work, which is redolent with allegory, allusion, and Nabokovian wordplay. His last novel, Beautiful Piece, garnered praise from across the literary spectrum. Enter Wanted: Elevator Man, his powerful and ambitious new novel and the story of Eliot Barnes Jr., a man at the end of his proverbial rope.

Haunted by the larger-than-life shadow of his father, a scientist who may have helped develop the atomic bomb, twenty-nine-year-old Eliot Barnes, Jr., is an apple that’s fallen far from the tree. Saddled with a useless degree in literature, caged in a rundown apartment he can’t afford, and embittered by his failure to live up to the future’s promise, Barnes, who dreams of a corner office—an aerie roost high above the city, working with the higher-ups—begrudgingly accepts a job as an elevator man in a downtown Chicago skyscraper. Thus begins a profound but comedic meditation on failure in this life, how one comes to terms with not achieving one’s dreams, the nature and origin of such dreams, and, fittingly, the meaning of the American dream itself.

As unflinching as Nelson Algren and as romantic as Saul Bellow, Peterson’s novel boasts wildly surreal plot twists and a lethal wit that frequently erupts into full-on hilarity. Wanted: Elevator Man is the perfect tale for learning to cope with diminished expectations in these dark and desperate times.

Gideon's Confession
ISBN: 087580702X

Switchgrass Books. 2014

In his fourth novel Peterson tells the story of Gideon Anderson, a young man alienated from his father and two brothers who have gone into the family business. Unlike them, he receives checks from his rich uncle every month. In exchange for the checks, the uncle asks Gideon to come up with a plan for his life, essentially a blueprint about how he intends to enter the job market. Gideon, who went to a prestigious university, puts his uncle off and spends the money on alcohol, the horses, and a miscellany of useless purchases partly because he doesn’t know what to do, partly because he doesn’t want to do anything.

Gideon then meets a lovely, ambitious woman, Claire, who encourages him to do better with his life and talent. She asks him to come to New York with her where her father can set him up in his firm or bankroll a business venture. Despite his good fortune in love and access to the steady cash-flow provided by his uncle, Gideon, like Melville’s character Bartleby the Scrivener “prefers not to” commit either to a career or to Claire. For ten years he just drifts. And then suddenly his uncle dies and Gideon has to make a decision.


The novels of Joseph G. Peterson have run a literary gauntlet from searing prose to lyrical poetry

from noir style to full character-driven plots, and his work has drawn comparisons to Gertrude Stein and Ernest Hemingway. An incredible eye for detail and taut, lean prose are what readers have come to expect from a Peterson effort, and in this new book they will not be disappointed. Peterson delivers an emotionally engaging parable that will appeal not only to twenty-somethings unwilling or unable to commit and fit in, but also to adult readers who appreciate modern literary fiction and carefully crafted characters.

Twilight of the Idiots
ISBN: 193998727X

Chicago Center for Literature and Photography. 2015

Know thyself and nothing in excess. Just as the doomed sailors of Homer's Odyssey fail to heed one or the other of these maxims, and end up getting turned to swine or lured to their peril by the singing sirens, so too do the doomed characters in Joseph G. Peterson's new collection of stories fail idiotically in one way or another and end up, like those ancient sailors, facing the prospect of their own mortal twilight. Set mostly in Chicago and by turns gruesome, violent, comic, lurid and perverse, these stories are suffused with a metaphorical light that lends beauty and joy to the experience of reading them.


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