I’ve recently enjoyed two novels featuring single not-quite young white men who move to Detroit. Detroit, as a ravaged urban wasteland, is the central figure in both books.
Scott Lasser’s Say Nice Things About Detroit is the easier and somewhat more conventional read, but it is a serious book. David Halpert is a lawyer who returns to Detroit in part to look after his ailing father and in part because there is really no place he wants to be. Halpert’s contacts and relationships with the Detroiters who never left makes this a rich and interesting story, and there is also a clever plot line. This is the first Lasser book I have read, and I liked it so much that I bought his other books.
Benjamin Markovits’ You Don’t Have to Live Like This is an unsettling read, but it is very insightful about the dueling interests that come into play when privileged young people volunteer themselves to rescue a failing city. Greg Marnier has no contacts with Detroit, but he also has no place he particularly wants to be. He just kind of falls into living in Detroit, partly through lack of other options and partly because he allows himself to be drafted into a rich friend’s plan to revitalize a down-and-out Detroit neighborhood. Marnier frequently lacks initiative and almost always lacks firm conviction, but he is somehow interesting and good-hearted enough to keep the story going. This is a very cynical book — there are no heroes, and at times it is almost too unpleasant too read. The intentions and effectiveness of most of the self-proclaimed urban saviors can’t withstand much scrutiny. The local residents are equally complicated. In many ways You Don’t Have to Live Like This comes across as an autopsy of a bold and purportedly altruistic endeavor to save a community that doesn’t want to be save by these particular people. I do keep thinking about this book, and I do recommend it.