A continuing theme in the mainstream media is the consistent eulogization of Detroit – perhaps due to the fact that, according to Paul Clemens, unlike other cities, Detroit “is one of those places that require you to have an opinion about them”. In his recent review of Detroit: An American Autopsy, by Charles LeDuff Clemens offers some interesting insight in ‘Breakdown‘ his recent review.
There’s an inherent frustration with Detroit – at least in terms of a broader perspective (i.e. those that don’t actually live and work there) but LeDuff comes from a very local background that gives some credibility beyond many other reporters. I’ve done some investigation into the Detroit phenomenon, but have not read the book – so this is merely a recounting of the review in today’s NYT review of books.
The reality of decay, rampant murder, abandonment and political turmoil is the root of Detroit – and as Clemens portrays it in LeDuff, the local’s terms:
“It’s awful here, there is no other way to say it… it was never that good in the first place.” Now, it’s an archaeological ruin… empty and forlorn and pathetic.”
So it’s difficult to feel that the city will give a fair shake – especially when the reveal is that the author is a suburban white guy. Sort of. He’s a mixed race man who is mostly visibly white – but with a black heritage that shapes his worldview beyond his skin color.
From a literary viewpoint, the books is hit or miss, moving from a bit of hyperbole to moments of genius like “Detroit is full of good people who know what pain is”. Perhaps that is why the title ‘autopsy’ is a bit alienating – but according to Clemens, worth the time.