Say Nice Things About Detroit by Scott Lasser | Book review
It’s easier to say nice things about the town than this novel.
I was not surprised to learn Detroit isn’t all bad while reading Lasser’s new novel. I was, however, surprised by a few other things. I didn’t know, for instance, that despite some apparent fault—a receding hairline or new wrinkles—nearly every person in Detroit is good-looking. Lasser uses this trick throughout the book, finding flaws in characters in order to make his praise appear more sincere. There is Marlon, the drug dealer who is really a good guy; Carolyn, the adulterer who deeply loves her child; and bitter David, divorced and grieving the loss of his son, the only guy willing to take on another down-and-out but inherently good character—Detroit.
But bad things still happen in Detroit. In fact, the book opens with a gang-related double homicide that leaves David’s high-school sweetheart and her retired FBI agent brother dead. Nonetheless, David still decides to move home to care for his ailing parents. Back in town, he becomes involved with Carolyn, the sister of the deceased, and befriends Marlon, who may or may not be involved in the shooting.
Unfortunately, Lasser upholds rather than questions the assumption that poverty leads to drug use, which leads to violence. While he depicts with nuance the awkwardness of crossing race and class lines, he reduces the city to a place of good and evil. In Detroit, the good work hard and make an honest living, the bad don’t. Poverty and violence are carelessly portrayed as a choice. When David hopes for the city “to rise in some miraculous resurrection,” it’s hard not to wonder if property values are the intended Lazarus. There’s no need to fault Lasser for rooting for the home team, but a more thoughtful examination of what constitutes progress is needed.