"Detective, there's a...there's a BOOK here to see you. It says its name is Detroit: An American Autopsy."
"Christ. Send it in, Dolly, and keep your mouth shut about it." Dolly's full, plum-colored lip quivered as she turned to usher in the tome, her ample breast heaving within the stretched cotton dress.
"So you've got the guts to show your face around here, eh, Detroit? Long time no see."
"Eh. Times is tough. I got nowhere else to turn right now." Detroit: An American Autopsy hauled itself into the well-worn leather chair in front of my desk and sighed, its yellowed and tattered pages stinking of cigarette smoke, motor oil, and cheap booze.
"You see, I got this guy- this Charlie LeDuff guy- he's runnin around Detroit with a tommy gun, only that tommy gun's just a pen, and that pen's runnin' out of ink, and we're all runnin' out of hope. That's where you come in."
I really hope that was as tedious to read as it was tedious to write. But there, now you know what Detroit: An American Autopsy is all about. It's miserable. It's depressing. But guys, that's DETROIT! Not one person in that miserable shit-hole of a town has something going for them! But no fear, you've got Charlie LeDuff, journalist, kamikaze cliche artist, and city-saver on hand.
I'm assuming that the Sam Spade affectation is both an expression of vanity on LeDuff's part and probably a necessity of craft: by making this story more about him, and his interactions with others, it's not incumbent upon him to strive for a broad interpretation of what's happened to his hometown. The narrower focus is safer for him. I don't doubt that he's a savvy journalist, and it's possible that he truly does interact with people in the way he does in this book, but what he doesn't recognize is that every conversation really revolves around him and his manner of speaking not only renders him as a caricature, but transforms those around him into mere set pieces in his ongoing family melodrama.
Yet this book receives rave reviews, and I'm mystified. Perhaps people consider him to be enigmatic; I find him to be brash, full of false bravado, and generally repulsive as a character. The misogyny is overwhelming: women are described by their breasts and "prophylactic-tight" dresses first, character second if at all. One baffling chapter has him fighting with his wife until she calls the cops. He's then hauled off to jail, comically invoking the 5th amendment outside of a courtroom. Ostensibly, this is to show just how "deep" he's in--- instead, it just makes him even less likeable and makes me wonder if he was desperate to chew up pages.
It's probably impossible to get into a deeper discussion of racial issues in Detroit at the moment, because it's too raw, but I feel as though some of the raves for his work might be coming in because passages often (though probably inadvertently) contain a wink-nod confirmation of what many people seem to love whispering about Detroit: that, for all that ails it, what's really screwing it up is that THOSE PEOPLE ran it into the ground.
LeDuff will hammer home the idea that everyone screwed up over and over, but it feels like each iteration of that is followed up with the wink-nod 'but from where I stand...' sort of deal. LeDuff's not racist. I don't think it was his intent to make it seem that he places the blame more on one entity than another. But everything about his tone strips away the humanity of his characters and makes people feel comfortable about believing all the stereotypes they'd long held about the city.
There are moments in this book when individuals shine in spite of the constraints he's placed upon them. It's just a shame that he couldn't leave himself out of the story long enough to keep up that momentum for more than a page or two.