THE OTHER SIDE OF THE RIVER by Alex Kotlowitz

THE OTHER SIDE OF THE RIVER

A Story of Two Towns, a Death and America's Dilemma
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KIRKUS REVIEW

 A powerful record of an untimely death--perhaps suicide, more probably murder--in middle America, from the writer whose 1991 bestseller There Are No Children Here awoke the country to the reality of life in urban ghettoes. Former Wall Street Journal staff writer Kotlowitz stumbled on the story of Eric McGinnis's 1991 death in southern Michigan a year after the fact, when, he writes, he should have been covering the Los Angeles riots in the wake of the Rodney King trial. Yet he maintains, and rightly, that McGinnis's death speaks equal volumes about the condition of race relations in America. McGinnis, a black teenager, was found drowned in a narrow river separating two small communities, one white and well-to-do (St. Joseph), the other black and desperately poor (Benton Harbor). The facts of McGinnis's death are, Kotlowitz notes, ``elusive . . . And your perspective . . . is shaped by which side of the river you live on.'' Black teenagers maintained that whites in St. Joseph murdered McGinnis because he had dated a white girl; white teenagers blamed his death on rival gangs that had moved in from Chicago and Detroit. Both sides abandoned rational discourse to pursue vendettas, while their elders reverted to long-held notions of the virtues of sticking with one's own kind. There are no villains, exactly, in Kotlowitz's narrative, which is full of voices from both sides of the river and which at times takes on a Rashomon-like quality. Nor are there many heroes. And the victim himself, writes Kotlowitz, was just a regular kid, ``insecure, self-involved, and at times self-destructive,'' who may simply have been in the wrong place at the wrong time. The trouble is, as Kotlowitz's book shows, America is full of wrong places, depending on the color of one's skin. This sad message lends McGinnis's death meaning, even if, as the author admits, we will probably never know what caused it. Kotlowitz has produced a skillfully rendered, thoughtful study of a divided country in microcosm. (Author tour)

Pub Date: Feb. 1st, 1998
ISBN: 0-385-47720-1
Page count: 352pp
Publisher: Talese/Doubleday
Review Posted Online:
Kirkus Reviews Issue: Dec. 1st, 1997




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