Audiobook Review: Say Nice Things About Detroit by Scott Lasser

24 07 2012

Say Nice Things About Detroit by Scott Lasser

Read by Kevin Kenerly

Blackstone Audio

Length: 6 Hrs 18 Min

Genre: Literary Thriller

Quick Thoughts: Say Nice Things about Detroit is Literary Fiction with a crime fiction heart. Lasser explores the city he loves through an awkward romance between two flawed characters looking to fill a void in their lives. It is left up to the reader to determine whether it is the romance, or returning home to Detroit that fills the holes for the character, or if these characters remain as empty and unfocused as when the tale begins.

Grade: B

As someone who has lived in, or in the suburbs of a major American city for all his life, I am a big believer that cities have personalities. As a huge fan of fiction, one of my favorite skills a writer can have is the ability to capture the personality of a city, or any other setting. In the right hands, a city becomes a character in itself, the language, the accent, the feel of its streets take on a life of its own. Yet, while this is true, it also forces me to set a high standard on fiction taking place within my own city, Philadelphia. There have been very few Philly set novels that I feel totally capture the heart of this city. A few authors have come close, including Lisa Scottoline, William Lashner and Richard Montanari, but, I think it’s hard for any novelist to truly capture any individual’s version of a city. I sometimes wonder how I would perceive some of the writer’s who I believe are experts at capturing the feel of a city in their novels, like George Pelecanos and Dennis Lehane, if I lived in Washington, DC or Boston. Before listening to Say Nice Things About Detroit, I had never experienced the writing of Scott Lasser. In all honest, the comparisons to The Wire was what first drew my attention. Yet, I have always felt like there is sort of an affinity between Detroit and Philly. Both are blue collar cities, which are major metropolitan areas but are not quite New York or Los Angeles, and I think on some levels, both cities have a chip on their shoulders about it. Yet, despite this feeling of kinship, I know very little about Detroit, beyond its Hollywood image on shows like Detroit 187, and I was interested in getting a look into this often neglected urban jungle.

Say Nice Things About Detroit is a tale of two broken people, who, due to tragedies in their lives, find themselves returning to a city that most of the natives who are able leave from for greener pastures. While the plot revolves around a murder of an undercover DEA agent and his sister, this aspect is only a catalyst to get the characters moving and in position for the author to present their live as a sort of mirror to an often abandoned city. It is in essence a character study, an exploration of returning home, yet, with enough crime fiction and thriller trappings to feed the genre loving beast in my soul. Lasser has created two incredible flawed characters. David Halpert is an estate attorney, who returns to Detroit to help his father with his aging mother. While in Detroit, he discovers his ex girlfriend was murdered, and when he contacts the family, he reunited with his ex-girlfriend’s sister, Carolyn. Carolyn is living in Los Angeles, stuck in a loveless marriage and a job she in ambivalent about, and meeting David just reminds her of the hole missing in her life. Of course, a romance brews. At first, the romance feels almost cold and mechanical, but as it progresses, it becomes a reflection of both of the characters lives, and deepens, but not in a Hollywood sweep you off your feet way. Lasser tells his story in leaps and burst, jumping significant periods of time, and this also causes a bit of a disconnect for the reader. The relationship between David and Carolyn never really feels organic, but I don’t feel it really is supposed to either. This is less a love story about two people, and more a look at two individuals who just happen to find some sort of connection with each other and the city that the were born in. It is two separate tales that finds a way to intermingle. Lasser briefly expands David and Carolyn’s history to give a look at their immediate families, and while it only serves as a sort of seasoning for the main course, it’s one of the more fascinating aspects of the novel. Lasser’s brief incursions into the peripheral characters of the tale, in many ways, is the glue that holds the story together, providing its heart. As someone not quite familiar with Detroit, I found the Lasser’s almost pictorial travels through the places and culture of the city to be well done, yet on some levels incomplete. He does paint a picture of Detroit, but never gives you a definitive image. Say Nice Things About Detroit is Literary Fiction with a crime fiction heart. Lasser explores the city he loves through an awkward romance between two flawed characters looking to fill a void in their lives. It is left up to the reader to determine whether it is the romance, or returning home to Detroit that fills the holes for the character, or if these characters remain as empty and unfocused as when the tale begins.

Kevin Kenerly handles the narration with a crisp, almost effortless style. While the story itself took big leaps in time, Kenerly manages to give the tale an organic pacing and smooth rhythm that allowed the reader to feel like the novel was progressing forward seamlessly. Kenerly merges with this tales, becoming as key a part of the overall feel of the novel as the settings themselves. He helps bring the flavor of the city streets to life, and creates organic characters among a diverse cast. I have used this term before when describing Kenerly’s work, but again its apt. Kenerly’s reading is almost breezy. It flows smoothly over the surface of the book, moving everything in a natural manner. It’s a unique style that when fit with the right tale, comes of beautifully. I’ll be quite honest, I’m not sure I would have enjoyed this novel as much if I read it in print. Yet, Kenerly’s beautiful narration allowed me to connect with these characters in a way I may never had in print, and I actually was more interested in them, then in the underlining mystery of the tale, which is sort of a departure for me as a reader.

Note: Thanks to Blackstone Audio for providing me with a copy of this title for review.

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One response

24 07 2012
Jill

Thanks for your review, I’ve been debating whether to listen to the audio or read the print, now I’ll definitely go ahead with the audio. As a native Detroiter, I certainly feel a kinship to Philly. Seems like the cities do indeed have similar backgrounds/attitudes…hardscrabble cities with tremendous potential, filled with good people, but the acts of a few misguided souls are the stories we see in the media.
And don’t get me started on Detroit 187! Talk about missed potential! So bummed it was cancelled after the first season.

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