Sunday, September 2, 2012

Book Review: "Say Nice Things about Detroit" by Scott Lasser

Yes, you can go home again. But do you want to? Scott Lasser's new novel, Say Nice Things about Detroit, strives to answer those questions.

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.

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