12.16.2006

HH Com 98

It’s 1966, and Harry Levine owns a wholesale shoe warehouse in one of Detroit’s declining neighborhoods, where most of the business owners are Jewish and the residents are black. Uncomfortable with his relative privilege in this ghettoized neighborhood, Harry tries to equalize matters by being a “good person,” especially to the black tenants who live upstairs from his warehouse. When Harry arrives at work on Halloween morning and finds his front window defaced by an ethnic slur, he is drawn more deeply into the thicket of tensions that surround him at his business, in the neighborhood where he and his family live, and in his struggling city. As Harry and his wife resist the fears that have driven much of the white population from the city, the outcome for them is a complex juxtaposition of losses and gains.

My literary novel, [title], explores the class, race, and ethnic frictions at work in the year encompassing the Detroit riots of 1967. In a broader sense, the novel is about the rise and collapse of a great American city—the once-mighty automobile capital of the world and arsenal of democracy.

The novel is based on a story for which I won first place in the 2005 Moment short fiction competition judged by Judy Budnitz.



Here's the write up in the New Yorker about Made in Detroit by Paul Clemens:

Detroit's population has halved since the nineteen-fifties, the result both of decline in the auto industry and, starting in the late sixties, of white flight in the wake of race riots. Born in Detroit in the seventies, Clemens grew up in a white enclave, and his memoir lovingly depicts his soft-spoken, gearhead father, who could shift from first to fifth without ever engaging the clutch, and his stalwart mother, who cleaned houses to pay for a private education that would keep her son out of inner-city schools. Embedded in his well-wrought, if conventional, coming-of-age story is an honest and bracing account not only of mutual mistrust across the color divide but also of the peculiar Rust Belt pride that kept whites and blacks locked together, even as the city collapsed around them.



See the difference?

The New Yorker article has a compelling immediacy to it. You're removed and distant in yours. You're telling me, not showing me with artful language like "gear head father" and "peculiar rust belt pride" what you want me to care about.

Read this book. It's probably the best memoir I've read since Mary Karr and Gay Talese.

14 comments:

Evenly said...

Umm...it's been a while since I've seen it, but doesn't this sound an awful lot like the plot of Do the Right Thing--substituting a Jewish shoe warehouse owner for Italian pizza joint?
I have to warn you, Spike is a pretty litigious fellow.

Bullet said...

Literary novel? *bangs head on keyboard*
Harry tries to equalize matters by being a “good person,” especially to the black tenants who live upstairs from his warehouse.
Just to them? Not to other people?

Kate said...

Now, most 'literary fiction' things have me running like the plague, I'll admit, so that's a strike against you that's really not even your fault.

But it just sounds...dull. And I've read some literary fiction that's not. So I know it doesn't have to be (hehe)

And maybe I could get myself to look at it closer if I found myself liking Harry. But I don't really know anything about him, either.

inherwritemind1 said...

Suggest you read "Middlesex" by Jeffrey Eugenedes. Won the Pulitzer, so it is "literary". Fabulous stuff about Detroit in the '60's.

Anonymous said...

I am not dissing your book (or your hook - or your hook's book) but FTLOC could somebody please tell me what the hell a literary novel is?

Does that mean it is just better written than a Jackie Collins masterpiece? I mean, novels are literarure just as novels are fictional, so if it is not OK to say "fictional novel" why is it OK to say "literary novel"?

Consider this an epistolary letter. Or an interrogatory question.

Anyway, best of luck with it.

Anonymous said...

I grew up in Detroit and what you've written is a crouton on a 132-layer salad. I can't help but see this as a product of the you-must-include-social-issues-in-your-novel university culture. Quit listening to that. Write from YOUR heart, not theirs. You've got nothing here that even comes close to unique, creative, or even interesting. This has been done to death around here and by better writers.

Anonymous said...

A commerical novel focuses on the story - what happens to characters in trouble.
A literary novel focuses on insightful and "elevated" writing, commonly at the expense of the story.

I have always thought of literary novels as about characters wandering around thinking about life, and themselves, too much. The end.

Dullsville. Unless your the type to choose books for their innovative use of language and chewy sentence structure.

Anonymous said...

Two other recently published fabulous memoirs: The Glass Castle by Jeannet Walls and The Tender Bar by J.R. Moehringer.

HawkOwl said...

I don't have full confidence in your style, but I'd look at this for sure.

shannon said...

The "arsenal of democracy"?????

Oh please. That really made me wince. It also contradicts your assertion that you've written a "literary novel." What you seem to want to write is a very self-indulgent story about the "good old days" of Detroit.

That is my really polite response to this one. I won't say what first came to mind cause I don't want Miss Snark to block me! (and cause it wouldn't be very constructive, of course.)

Anonymous said...

Don't despair, writer . . . yes, it has been done before, but I would definitely take a look at this and I don't find literary fiction boring! It's about all I read.

Anonymous said...

'Arsenal of Democracy' is what FDR called Detroit during WWII. It is not hyperbole on the author's part. It's better to know the history of a phrase before you wince at it.

shannon said...

Actually, no, I don't have to know the history. Just because it was called that, doesn't mean it isn't cringe-worthy. And you can't assume that everyone knows as much about America as you do.

I stand by my comment. I would cringe again if I made myself read it, which I won't. My opinion is worth no less than yours. Cheers.

author of HH Com 98 said...

It's interesting how anxious people are to be mean. I know that Miss Snark has established a certain tone on her blog, but still . . . I don't really get why commenters try to outdo her. Anyway, I actually found her feedback quite helpful and generous--as well as some of these comments. Writing a hook is not the same as writing a novel, and I see that in trying to "summarize" the whole thing, I ended up sounding too detached and academic. I now have a better idea what I need to do to hook someone. Also, I realize that the term "literary fiction" is potentially off-putting and vague, but it is a recognized term in the publishing biz (I asked this of Miss Snark once, and she confirmed, which is why I used it here). But why assume that I wouldn't know about Eugenides or Middlesex? Of couse I do. I have read widely on all the themes and subjects in my novel.