DETROIT by Charlie LeDuff (I know what you’re thinking.)

Written By: sherridaley - • •

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I was thinking the same thing.  Who wants to read a book about a city of smoldering detritus, where you are advised by hand-written signs to not gas up your car after dark?  (Once you step out of the driver’s seat, someone will deftly get in it and drive away.) Square miles of abandoned buildings. Dark streets where even the natives don’t venture out. Where residents are begging the city to bulldoze the houses next door. Drugs, coyotes, unemployment, deserted factories, and acres of weeds.

But I recommend this book for two reasons.

1.  It is a riveting, rollicking good read. LeDuff, long a journalist for the Detroit Free Press and for the New York Times, a Pulitzer-prize winner, and current television journalist for Detroit’s Fox 2 News, writes a damned good book.  Although the book flap says that the book is not a hopeless parable, I have to admit that I was convinced of Detroit’s hopelessness when I quit reading.  LeDuff is the quintessential, stereotypical, cigar-chomping, whiskey-drinking,  gruff-speaking reporter – perfect for a prime time TV series.  What makes this unsettling is that his stories are all true.  Throughout the book, you keep thinking, “They couldn’t have got away with that.”  Or “It can’t possible be that  bad.”    But they did.  And it is.

2. It’s a cautionary tale that I wish everyone would read and take note. What happened there can happen elsewhere.  Perhaps not in your town, but nearby.  Too nearby.  Somebody – maybe you and me – has to do something.  But I don’t know what.

I’m from Michigan.  My grandparents lived in Detroit in a beautiful brick house with French doors that opened out onto a rose garden. Grandpa owned a dairy, and my brother and I spent summers on the farm a few hours away. They were comfortable, if not rich, but maybe they were.  I was just a kid. Detroit was a beautiful city back then, with canopies of trees and elegant stores, restaurants, and wide boulevards. Going to Detroit was a special outing.  The Fisher Theatre. The Ford Rotunda. Joey Muir’s Restaurant. The London Chop House.

I remember the 12th Street Riot of 1967. It didn’t have a name back then.  We just knew that they were burning down Detroit, looting and shooting people. Mom and Dad and my brother and I lived about 5o  miles away, and I remember standing on the porch looking in the direction of Detroit, terrified.  I remember I could see the glow of the fires burning, but of course now I am sure we could not.  That’s just my memory making up things because my mind and heart could see the fire very clearly. Someone was burning down my grandpa’s  noble city.

If you have a minute, go to the internet and see how Hiroshima rebuilt itself. And then go look at before-and-after photographs of Detroit.  Detroit has never, ever recovered.

LeDuff’s book, unsettling as it may be, is a great read, even if it were fiction.

In fact, I wish it were fiction.

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