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Angels of Detroit Christopher Hebert
Christopher Hebert’s remarkable intersecting stories of those who still “live” in what remains of a once thriving city is set just outside of Detroit's revitalized city center and midtown area. Deteriorating buildings hold secrets and desires. Vacant, dimly lit blocks remain a constant reminder of yesterday, frustration and loss.
Built on the bones of Detroit’s history Hebert weaves an extraordinary fictional story of women and men who do what they can to retain or regain control of at least some part of their lives. Some make the best of what remains, others can not accept the loss. Throughout, the scarred physical landscape looms large as a decisive underlying influence in their decisions.
It’s a challenge to summarize this engaging,expansive,multi-character novel without revealing the plot but there is much to recommend. There’s an ease and clarity to Hebert’s writing and the characters’ voices ring believably true. He carefully builds the individual story lines and in unexpected ways gradually ties most together adding a sense of urgency and suspense to the story. And for me, the Angels of the novel may be the female characters who with few exceptions are strong, resolute survivors. Perhaps these women, like the 2 women who stand side by side on the original seal of Detroit, represent the hope that the city will rise once again.
“The seal in the middle of the flag represents the fire that destroyed the city in 1805.
Two women stand in the foreground while the city burns in the background.
The woman on the left weeps over the destruction, while the woman on the right
consoles her by gesturing to a new city that will rise in its place.”— From Sharon's Picks
Once an example of American industrial might, Detroit has gone bankrupt, its streets dark, its storefronts vacant. Miles of city blocks lie empty, saplings growing through the cracked foundations of abandoned buildings.
In razor-sharp, beguiling prose, Angels of Detroit draws us into the lives of multiple characters struggling to define their futures in this desolate landscape: a scrappy group of activists trying to save the city with placards and protests; a curious child who knows the blighted city as her own personal playground; an elderly great-grandmother eking out a community garden in an oil-soaked patch of dirt; a carpenter with an explosive idea of how to give the city a new start; a confused idealist who has stumbled into debt to a human trafficker; a weary corporate executive who believes she is doing right by the city she remembers at its prime--each of their desires is distinct, and their visions for a better city are on a collision course.
In this propulsive, masterfully plotted epic, an urban wasteland whose history is plagued with riots and unrest is reimagined as an ambiguous new frontier--a site of tenacity and possible hope. Driven by struggle and suspense, and shot through with a startling empathy, Christopher Hebert's magnificent second novel unspools an American story for our time.