As I continue to lose sleep over the horrifying possibility of a Donald Trump presidency (a condition I believe I share with millions of other sane Americans), my thoughts usually turn to those who are less fortunate than me. Because let’s be honest, no matter who becomes president, I—as a middle-class, straight, white male—will survive. On the other hand, I worry daily for the plights of women, ethnic minorities, the LGBT community, working-class Americans, and any of the other groups that have endured Trump’s vile, hateful, ignorant rhetoric.
In his upcoming book, Exiled in America, “an ethnographic study of a year in the life of a residential motel,” sociologist Christopher Dum focuses on just such people, specifically the “marginalized…including the mentally ill, disabled individuals, addicts, and registered sex offenders.” Living among these “social refugees,” Dum reveals the heartbreaking circumstances that led to many of their current situations, and he consistently emphasizes how “the stigma of the motel was so blinding that [local officials] were unable to see residents as human beings.” He also examines their experiences in a broader context, touching on issues of poverty, homelessness, incarceration, and eviction.
In that sense, the book shares the DNA of Matthew Desmond’s Evicted, still the most moving, significant book I have read this year. (To continue a refrain I have shouted for months, try reading Evicted without crying.) And while Dum’s book is scholarly, it is not oppressively so and, at fewer than 300 pages, should appeal to general readers with an interest in sociology and how the marginalized move through a world in which they are often nearly invisible. Dum does an important, timely service in demonstrating, with empathy and respect, “what’s happening to the weakest among us.”
Eric Liebetrau is the nonfiction and managing editor.