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Wednesday, March 26, 2014

Book review: Detroit: An American Autopsy by Charlie LeDuff

Four years ago I visited Detroit for the first time and I was very impressed. The architecture was beautiful, the Institute of Art was fantastic, the Belle Isle Yacht Club was amazing, and the people were lovely. I am going back this summer. When I ran across this book, I was intrigued, as Detroit has been much in the news the last six years, with the worst of the bad economy taking hold there.

Mr. LeDuff is a Detroit native, but he was living in New York City, working as a journalist at the New York Times when he decided to move home. He wanted to raise his child in a more friendly environment near family, and he wanted to support his struggling hometown. He got a job at the #2 newspaper (the Detroit News) and moved. As he chronicles the misfortunes of the city's have-nots and the foibles of the city's haves (particularly the politicians as his homecoming coincided with Kwame Kilpatrick's downfall), we see its impact on his own family. His brother used to sell mortgages, and now his own house is foreclosed on. Another brother works part-time in a mind-numbing factory job that pays less than his first job back in high school. His niece dies of a drug overdose.

I liked the personal stories, and how LeDuff is so invested in this story as these stories don't just happen to strangers, however, he inserts himself too much into the stories that don't revolve around his family, and seems to view himself as something of a cowboy (the front cover of the book should have been a warning in this regard.) I don't care if he's wearing fancy snakeskin boots to cover a murder. I was also less impressed that I feel he wanted me to be by his mouthing off to people in authority (sure some deserved it, but he's not a teenager and should be able to speak civilly even in disagreement with a jerk.)

The characters he comes across are often so crazy that they can only be real. They were riveting and heartbreaking. The stories of murders, accidental deaths, squandering of city money, and the way the city is literally falling apart around its residents are sad and yet tell the truth of America. We are a country that is okay with a city selling off its firehouses' fire poles for scrap and mishandling the building of a new firehouse to the tune of more than ten times the estimate. I hope exposes like this one inspire more people to both reach out and help, and stand up for what is right. Detroit will never be what it once was, but there's no reason it has to be what it is. Good people live there and the city can survive. What form it will survive in, only time will tell.

I borrowed this book from the library aboard The Royal Princess cruise ship.

1 comment:

Christy (A Good Stopping Point) said...

From your review, I think the author's personality would bug me too much to outweigh the details about Detroit. That's too bad as premise does sound interesting.