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Exiles in Eden: Life Among the Ruins of Florida's Great Recession Hardcover – August 31, 2010
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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
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This is a well written, interesting read.
It begins with a clean-out crew the author works with, his dad runs the outfit with two other guys. We get info on how that works which is somewhat interesting, with the police involved to move things along. Then, we get the author's growing-up background, then some about his dad and his mom, like this is a family geneolgy as if we care, I did not.
It weaves in the 2008 Presidential campaign and the collapse of the financial institutions. From there it gives us a history of the settling of Tampa, of Florida itself, and how Miami and Flordia came to be a destination for snow-bound Northerners.
There is a section about 'Take Back the Land' a group that helps people squat in abandoned foreclosed homes. Then a minute by minute account of the police as they try to evict some people from a house and the neighborhood prevents that. People say 'Housing is a right'. Hmmm. Talks about people refinancing their homes for more than they are worth and being unable to pay for them, and some of the places are shacks.
In the end he goes an visits a plat of land out in the middle of nowhere that his parents paid for over the years that is supposedly his inheratance. He mentions that his writing work was unable to support him. At the end he thanks the people that helped him assemble the ... book. Personally, I would avoid them if you want to write a book. Has some insight, an easy read, just not alot there that is very worthy.
It's not a book that deals with the mind-numbing economics of the collapse of the mortgage industry. Reyes eschews interviews with bigwigs and experts in favor of snippets of daily life on the ground in Florida's hardest hit communities. Most of the chapters recount Reyes' days following around his father, who made a career out of cleaning up the left-behind remains after a foreclosed homeowner skips town.
I highly recommend the book if you are looking for greater insight into the human dimension of the Florida housing crisis. The style is both illustrative and, at times, poetic. I often found myself swept up in the narrative, nearly to the point of feeling the sweat of a humid Florida afternoon. The chapter on Lehigh Acres is particularly intriguing, bringing to light some of the backhanded real estate tactics that laid the groundwork for the current crisis.
Kudos again to Reyes on his debut book.