Thursday, January 3, 2013

Reading Journal: Say Nice Things About Detroit, by Scott Lasser (2012)

Praised on its back cover by both a National Book Award winner, (Colum McCann), and a pulp master like Elmore Leonard, it was hard to know what to expect from this novel. It truly starts in media res, when our hero, David, returns to his hometown, Detroit, on exactly the same night that his ex-wife Natalie and her FBI agent brother Dirk - half-siblings, she white and he black - are murdered. Before long, David is taking up with his ex's sister, Carolyn - who's married - and re-discovering his home and the intrigue in both his family and Carolyn's. And while there is a murder mystery here - one that you know from the beginning must turn around Marlon Booker, a young man Dirk had previously taken under his wing - it's not front-and-centre, which lets the book focus on relationships forming and ending, and to an extent, the meaning of building a community in contemporary Detroit. You might think this would get disappointing or dry, but the opposite is true: a great deal happens in this rather short (260-page) novel, and it becomes about people that you care about regardless of the bad things they've done, or that other thing so important to Detroit stories: race. Incredibly believable and rooted in reality, it's a stark but uplifting read, and while I could have used more details about Detroit, and while some of the language could have been finer, this is a book that hits you in the gut and is impossible to put down. It's Lasser's fourth - I'll definitely be checking out his first three.

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