Ambitious, moving tale of an inner-city Newark kid who made it to Yale yet succumbed to old demons and economic realities.
Novelist Hobbs (The Tourists, 2007) combines memoir, sociological analysis and urban narrative elements, producing a perceptive page-turner regarding the life of his eponymous protagonist, also his college roommate. Peace’s mother was fiercely independent, working nonstop in hospital kitchens to help aging parents keep their house. His father, a charming hustler, was attentive to Robert until his conviction on questionable evidence in a double murder. Mrs. Peace pushed her bright son toward parochial school, the best course for survival in Newark, already notorious for economic struggles and crime. Compulsively studious, Robert thrived there—a banker alumnus offered to pay his college tuition—and also at Yale. Hobbs contrasts his personal relationship with Robert with a cutting critique of university life, for the privileged and less so, capturing the absurd remove that “model minority” and working-class students experience. At Yale, Peace both performed high-end lab work in his medical major and discreetly dealt marijuana, enhancing his campus popularity, even as he held himself apart: “Rob was incredibly skilled in not showing how he felt [and] at concealing who he was and who he wanted to be.” After graduation, Peace drifted, as did many of his peers: Hobbs notes that even for their privileged classmates, professional success seemingly necessitated brutal hours and deep debt. But Peace drifted back into the Newark drug trade; in 2011, he was murdered by some of the city’s increasingly merciless gangsters due to his involvement in high-grade cannabis production. Hobbs manages the ambiguities of what could be a grim tale by meticulously constructing environmental verisimilitude and unpacking the rituals of hardscrabble parochial schools, Yale secret societies, urban political machinations and Newark drug gangs.
An urgent report on the state of American aspirations and a haunting dispatch from forsaken streets.