An ensemble novel set against the backdrop of a ruined and abandoned Detroit.
Hebert's (The Boiling Season, 2012) sweeping tale follows the intersecting lives of a diverse cast of characters, each struggling in his or her own way to persevere. There's Dobbs, a dispassionate, insomniac college dropout who, looking to distance himself from his upbringing and align himself with “bottom-feeders” more suited for survival in a dying world, transports and harbors illegal aliens. There's a band of protesters, led by the bold and destructive McGee, whose attempts at dissent and demonstration fall far short of their expectations. There's Ruth Freeman, a powerful but jaded director of corporate communications at HSI—the remaining pillar of Detroit industry, producing everything from weapons and drones to toasters and fetal heart monitors—who to the protestors is a criminal and to her fellow HSI board members is a stubborn snag in their mission to desert the city. There's Darius, who is alternately loyal to HSI, where he works as a security guard, and aligned with the subversive movement; his dubious moral center is underlined by an affair with his teenage neighbor. There's Michael Boni, a lapsed carpenter living in his deceased grandmother’s house, who dreams of demolishing Detroit’s neglected buildings and growing flora in their place, an ambition inspired by the quiet garden work of his elderly neighbor, Constance. For Michael, “the lettuce was an opening salvo, a declaration of war.” The most poignant and appealing of these characters are Constance and her great-granddaughter, Clementine. From nothing, with only sporadically helpful neighbors, Constance cultivates a lush crop in her backyard, opens a restaurant furnished with found goods, and is a taciturn, unapologetic force for community good. Written in evocative prose with careful detail, this is a veracious portrayal of a decimated city. It moves at an exciting pace, the various plot threads braiding rapidly. Most poignant is the insight offered about those fighting to amend the damage. These characters are flawed and more appealing for it. Perhaps Hebert intends to suggest that this is true of the city itself.
An expansive yet intimate tale of the efforts made to save a decaying Detroit.