From Publishers Weekly
Starred Review. As a freelance writer often in need of money, Reyes frequently helped his father "trash out" foreclosed homes in Florida. Trashing out was what they called "erasing all traces of whoever lived there, dispensing with both their physical presence and the ugly aura of eviction." Before the housing crisis, trashing out gave Reyes a small but steady supplement to his income. But after, Reyes decided to use the experience as a way to examine the crisis and its impact on the lives of ordinary people. He becomes involved with many who had lost their homes, and some who are offering assistance, and follows up on them as they try to rebuild their lives. Many had been subprime borrowers duped by unscrupulous lenders, lost their jobs, and accrued too much debt, and their stories, often best revealed by the desperate detritus left behind, form the spine of Reyes's powerful book. The author also tells his father's story, and the typicality of this immigrant's tale supports, rather than weakens, the larger point. His impressive effort stands as a wrenching chronicle of our new hard times.
Floridian Reyes works “trashing out” foreclosed houses—emptying the houses and cleaning them for resale. With Florida being, arguably, ground zero for the country’s ongoing economic disaster, Reyes has plenty of work; thinking as a writer, he dubs his melancholy labors a kind of “moody archaeology,” piecing together the stories of ousted home owners from the items they abandoned. Some are victims of predatory mortgage originators, thousands of whom have been convicted of financial crimes. Others have lost their jobs and then their homes. Some are simply fools, “an absurdity,” he writes, “that seems indigenous to Florida.” Exiles in Eden is engaging, insightful, compassionate, and often charmingly idiosyncratic. His portrayals of foreclosure’s victims are uniformly sad, but he tempers the mood a bit with perceptive analysis of the state’s history, socioeconomics, and odd allure: “For most of its history, through today, Florida was the weird backyard of the American imagination, as deadly as it was salubrious.” Boom, he notes, is the “backbone” of the state’s economy, and constant development and change leave residents “little sense of feeling anchored.” Recommend this one both to followers of the economic crisis and to anyone who feels Florida’s “odd allure.” --Thomas Gaughan