A debut novelistic dramatization focuses on a community’s battle to halt aggressive gentrification.
Jack Cade serves as a staff sergeant in Iraq, training Iraqi soldiers to detect and disarm improvised explosive devices. After a blast kills seven Iraqi servicemen—a tragedy for which he blames himself—Cade strikes an officer in anger and is ignominiously court-martialed. He returns to Virginia and becomes a cab driver, but his life devolves into alcohol-besotted disaster and his wife leaves him. Cade learns that a real estate conglomerate—Urban Renaissance Partners—plans to build a luxury urban village in Glebe Valley. This high-cost housing will predictably displace most of the residents, many of whom are Hispanic, from Chapelita, his own neighborhood. Luis Guzmán, Cade’s friend and manager of the Chapelita Community Center, introduces him to Rita Castro, a lawyer who opposes gentrification, calling it “economic eviction.” Cade organizes the Chapelita Coalition for Justice, a group dedicated to thwarting URP’s designs. But URP has no intention of fading quietly into the night—Mick Finn, the conglomerate’s senior vice president of development, strikes a deal with the savagely murderous gang Brothers of Blood to silence Cade. Sheehy constructs an intricate plot centered on the issue of gentrification as social injustice, and includes considerable discussion of the evils of capitalism, spatial inequality, and tenants’ rights as well as the plight of 20th-century rebellions in El Salvador and Cuba. Cade is a gripping and sympathetic protagonist, despite being a formulaic one—the traumatized cynic who is begrudgingly lured into fighting on the side of the downtrodden. The writing is clear, though occasionally misfires—Cade’s cab is described as “splendiferous”—and the plot dashes to a violent conclusion with frenetic velocity. But the story is overly cramped with a surfeit of subplots, which turn out to be more distracting than thrilling; for example, one that chronicles Luis’ service in a Salvadoran death squad is so melodramatic (and shopworn) that it almost becomes comic. Finally, readers in search of a nuanced literary rendering of gentrification in all its complexity will likely be disappointed—advocates of the process are consistently depicted as cartoon villains.
An action-packed but overwrought and proselytizing real estate tale.