Charlie LeDuff is a good writer, a strong stylist, and he writes, spare, powerful prose from the Gonzo, AKA Hunter S. Thompson School of journalism. His credentials are impressive. He is a Pulitzer Award winning author and a journalist who embraces confronting the underbelly of the American experience, its tormented, its down and out, its outcasts.
With the Great Recession of 2008, he feels drawn to go back to his roots in Detroit, which he argues is a microcosm of what is going to happen to the rest of America. He leaves his job at the New York Times, then the Los Angeles Times and takes a job at the rundown Detroit Times, described as moribund with chalk line around his new office area rug that looks like, as he describes, a murder scene.
In his several, short chapters he captures the despair of scandalous politicians, laid-off workers, his own dysfunctional family members, his own dysfunctional marriage, and his own demon-possessed self.
In the process, he's held up by robbers at a gas station, he must confront the demons of losing his sister to a horrible, untimely death many years ago in Detroit; a call girl is murdered, there's a sewage scandal, his brother's dog dies from eating toxic dog food made in China; he finds a dead man frozen in ice; fighting with his wife about his obsession with his work and dealing with the darkness, they fight with such rage, that the cops arrive, hand-cuff him, and put him in the slammer.
The despair in this book is relentless with no comic respite and at times I felt there was an egotism that drove LeDuff to almost celebrate this dark madness, as if his graphic descriptions of it would somehow empower him.
The end result of these short chapters of brutal anecdotage is some strong pieces that stand well by themselves, but I'm sad to say they don't add up to much. The chapters lack cohesiveness and we, the readers, who have a grasp of what's going on in the headlines won't be shocked by the Great Recession's havoc on people's personal lives.
So while I was eager to read a coherent narrative about a man confronting his personal demons in Motor City, what I got was some disjointed chapters from a man who needs to find a way to shape, refine and package his rage into a more coherent whole.