TEARDOWN by Gordon Young


Memoir of a Vanishing City
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Another entry in the Rust Belt genre.

Like Michael Moore, journalist Young (Communications/Santa Clara Univ.) grew up in Flint, Mich., the former epicenter of the auto industry and now widely regarded as one of America’s fastest-dying cities. In this overly detailed debut, he describes revisiting his decaying hometown with the ostensible goal of buying a house and living there. In the grip of nostalgia, much of it engendered by his experiences working on a blog that culls Vehicle City memorabilia (Flint Expatriates), Young offers a scattershot account of Flint's history, from its swampy backwater beginnings to its eventual apotheosis as “Fabulous Flint," the middle-class dream city of the 1950s, when General Motors ruled. Having grown up in the downward transitioning city of the ’70s (Flint has lost more than half its residents in the past five decades), the author nonetheless retains fond memories of his altar-boy days and of the genuine friendliness and sense of community in Flint neighborhoods; he finds this quality lacking in San Francisco, where he and his girlfriend have lived since 2003. During several years of research, Young encountered pleasing remnants of the former Flint but far more often found evidence of ceaseless decline, including abandoned buildings and waves of crime and arson. “[E]ven people from Detroit looked down on Flint,” he writes. Urban homesteaders and others gave him hope for the city and his quest to find a new home there. However, his constant indecision over whether he should buy or not—in the face of his own realization that it might be a bad idea—becomes maddening for readers, who know from early on what the author will do. Despite fascinating glimpses of the city’s old bar culture and its present politics, only die-hard Flintoids will stay with this story to the end.

Well-written but lacks coherence.

Pub Date: July 1st, 2013
ISBN: 978-0-520-27052-7
Page count: 288pp
Publisher: Univ. of California
Review Posted Online:
Kirkus Reviews Issue: June 15th, 2013


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