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Say Nice Things About Detroit: A Novel Hardcover – July 2, 2012
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“This is a sharp, clear portrait of who we are now. Scott Lasser continues to shape a very distinct literary map.”
- Colum McCann
“You’ll love Scott Lasser’s style. His book spans a few years but keeps moving with dialogue that’s natural and alive: whites and blacks in Detroit, a setting you come to know and can feel what it’s about. I know; I’ve been here most of my life.”
- Elmore Leonard
“Starred review. Detroit is autumnal in this quietly moving novel of place… Lasser composes his sympathetic cast into tableaux that are meaningful, even emblematic, but that, even when highly dramatic, aren’t forced. His restrained portrait of Detroit evokes real pathos.”
- Publisher's Weekly
“Scott Lasser's new novel is a moving, fast paced, economical story of race, crime and hope. Weighted by the death of his son and the end of his marriage, David Halpert, a young lawyer, returns home to the chaos of a dying Detroit to discover a love affair and his own brush with violence as the book rushes to its stunning conclusion.”
- Susan Richards Shreve, author of You Are the Love of my Life
“Starred review. Lasser’s Detroit may be a troubled city, but it is one whose vibrant soul is writ large in the small actions of its loyal citizens. With a serene and steady hand, Lasser’s spare but intense tale is a smart, intimate homage to the power of second chances. Put this book in the hands of fans of Richard Ford and Richard Russo.”
- Carol Haggas, Booklist
“In a city famous for ruin, a pilgrim’s tale of rebirth and renewal: Scott Lasser’s narrative gifts are abundant, his characters a compelling and convincing lot. Say Nice Things About Detroit, while true to life’s damages and sadnesses, is nonetheless a joyous, vital read.”
- Thomas Lynch, author of The Undertaking
“Lasser… knows which side of 8 Mile Road matters, and his intimate understanding of the city makes for a captivating novel rich with details of the local vernacular, weather, food, music, crime and, of course, cars. While the double murder and diverse characters drive the narrative, the city itself plays a central role. Detroit is not just the setting for Lasser’s story―it’s a place with a beating heart (weak pulse notwithstanding) and enough guts to have a future.”
- Bruce Jacobs, Shelf Awareness
“Scott Lasser has written a moving story of people whose lives are stalled until they face events and places they’d rather avoid. His book suggests that for people and cities, life’s greatest rewards are only achieved through struggle. A moving tribute to second chances and the august, desolate, melancholy city of Detroit.”
- Thomas McGuane
“David Halpert returns to his native city and finds a new life and a modicum of happiness, but along the way he also confronts heartbreak and loss…
Lasser’s setting ranges from the dingy ’hood to the ritzy ’burbs, so by the end we get to know the city almost as intimately as we know the characters.”
“Readers will savor this fast-paced tale of redemption in one sitting.”
- Russell Miller, Library Journal
“This appealing story may prompt some to hope (Detroit) will receive the chance at redemption that Scott Lasser so generously extends to his characters.”
- Harvey Freedenberg, Bookpage
“A mystery underlies Lasser’s thoughtful novel of a man returning to the city of his youth to assist elderly parents in distress, but only in a peripheral sense. The senseless murder of two people grows more meaningful and textured by the story’s end.”
About the Author
Scott Lasser, a native of Detroit, has worked for the National Steel Corporation and Lehman Brothers. He is the author of three novels, including Battle Creek, and currently lives in Aspen, Colorado, and Los Angeles, California.
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- There is a plot in here that's quite compelling; some things are shown early on, but the author draws you into the story well enough that the resolution makes perfect sense without being given away.
- There are a couple memorable characters, and the author shifts point of view effectively to give you a sense of how they each experience life--and the city of Detroit.
- Detroit is a prominent backdrop, but it's not a tedious insiderly account; it helps to know a few landmarks, but the story doesn't depend on one knowing where Tiger Stadium used to be.
- The writing style is spare. Unadorned. It reads quickly, and scenes are brief. The author likes to summarize what could be drawn-out bits of dialogue, esp. when a character is summarizing a past event.
In the end, I go with four instead of five stars only because I never felt that I got too close to the characters. They have experienced a range of tragedies, small and large, and I empathized without being moved to tears. The account feels a bit clinical, as if the author has a critical distance from the subject matter that makes its pain more tolerable, but less powerful. Detroit could probably use such treatment on a grander scale, and this novel helps us get much closer to a city that might bite if you approach it without any caution.
The story centers around David, a successful attorney in Denver, somewhat adrift personally after the tragic loss of his only and the failure of his first marriage. When his aging father calls and asks him to return home to Detroit to help care for him and his Alzheimer's afflicted mother, David is naturally dubious - who in his right mind moves BACK to Detroit, having seen the damaged shell of a city that it has become in recent years? But, as David realizes, we can choose a place to live, but home is irreplaceable - the place where we grow up, and build memories and connections. That has a power that is hard to describe, and impossible to replace.
Swirling around David during his re-entry to life in the Motor City are other characters who reflect the flawed, wounded, but resilient nature of the town. A mixed-race family that he met during his youth while dating one sister, only to find himself in love with the other after that first love is mysteriously shot down one night. A young drug dealer, Marlon, who had been mentored by that same family's black half-brother, who comes to live with David and become a sort of needy, dysfunctional surrogate son to him. And then there is the city itself, with glimpses of majesty (The Renaissance Center, Comerica Park, Greektown, the People Mover) among the haunted scraps of more prosperous eras past (the car-mogul mansions, the old Hudson's Department Store).
Mr. Lasser brings all of this wonderfully to life, offering an emotionally resonant mosaic of an enigmatic place that is always on the verge of a "renaissance," or bankruptcy and total ruin. A great book for any reader, with tight, insightful prose, but of particular interest to anyone who has ever lived in the area and felt the magnetic push-pull of the place. Is Detroit worthy of nice things being said? Will it ever reclaim its former glories? This book suggests that, all flaws aside, it is a battle worth waging, especially for those of us whose own life histories are so inexorably tied to it.
David Halpert hasn't really been back to his hometown of Detroit in more than 25 years. Most people flee that city and never come back, but trying to recover from a divorce and the death of his son, and help his father with his ailing mother, David decides to return. Shortly thereafter, he learns about the murder of his high school girlfriend, Natalie, and her half-brother, Dirk, who was an FBI agent.
Reconnecting with Natalie's family, he finds they are dealing with their own pain, and he begins a relationship with her younger sister, Carolyn, who is visiting from California to help her mother through her grief. Carolyn is pondering an escape from her own marriage, and as her relationship with David grows in intensity, she, too, considers moving back to Detroit, but wonders what effect it might have on her young son. And what does moving from Los Angeles back to a declining Detroit really mean for her life?
At the same time as the book focuses on David and Carolyn's relationship against the backdrop of their struggling hometown, it also flashes back to key points in Dirk's relationship with his close friend, Everett, and Everett's son, Marlon, whose troubled life also intersects with David and Carolyn's.
Scott Lasser is a very good writer, and he has created a very compelling and interesting story. I had a feeling of inevitability as I was reading the book, and I hoped that the plot wouldn't unfold quite the way I feared it might. The characters are really complex, and while I understand that the flashbacks were necessary to underscore Dirk's relationship with his family and Marlon, I felt they were a little distracting to the flow of the story. But in the end, this is a powerful story of second chances, and believing yourself worthy of happiness.
Most recent customer reviews
Say Nice Things About Detroit by Scott Lasser is a short, but fun novel.Read more