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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.
"Written in evocative prose with careful detail, this is a veracious portrayal of a decimated city. It moves at an exciting pace, the various plot threads braiding rapidly. Most poignant is the insight offered about those fighting to amend the damage. These characters are flawed and more appealing for it. Perhaps Hebert intends to suggest that this is true of the city itself. An expansive yet intimate tale of the efforts made to save a decaying Detroit." - Kirkus Reviews
"Hebert tells this story through the interactions of eleven major characters whose lives intersect in subtle and suspenseful ways. . . . [He] wonderfully brings out his ensemble’s human qualities, whether they’re fearful, compassionate, or tenacious." - Publishers Weekly
"Hebert’s powerful novel will produce chills. . . . Scrambling for viable options, Hebert’s current residents [of Detroit]--activists, planners, takers, opportunists, and optimists still living in a city that looks war-gutted--are undertaking to shake off the shroud of how-did-this-happen and discover renewed vigor. Hebert’s tenacious prose . . . drives the narrative and brings characters . . . to visceral life." - Booklist
"Ambitious, well-paced, observant--Angels of Detroit is a first-rate novel of flawed but admirable characters who want a brighter future in what one of them calls ‘the new Old West.’" - Shelf Awareness
"Written with vivid compassion, Hebert’s characters represent Detroit's many generations, races, and socioeconomic divisions. As their lives intersect, a multifaceted Detroit takes shape: a city to grieve, and a city just getting started." - Belt Magazine
"A humbler, more endearing bunch of rainbow-hued misfits never fumbled their broken-hearted way towards revolution than those we meet in Christopher Hebert’s Angels of Detroit--truly a novel of our moment, both in the way it stares unsentimentally at the real trouble we are in--a world of poisoned children and cities in ruins--and in the deep and detailed empathy it shows for characters of every class and provenance. Hebert gets Detroit right, in this beautifully made book: his careful drawing of its physical catastrophe locates the city at the exact boundary between gritty-real and surreal, between last hope and post-apocalyptic nightmare." - Jaimy Gordon, author of the National Book Award-winning LORD OF MISRULE
"Set in a city that’s either deteriorating beyond hope or rising from the ashes, Angels of Detroit pulls off the magic trick of all great fiction: it makes the world we live in now seem both wondrous and strange." - Adam Ross, author of MR. PEANUT
"Christopher Hebert’s prose is as incantatory as it is precise, summoning forth a city dreamlike in its strangeness but unmistakably grounded in living reality. Few contemporary writers invoke the secret landscapes of American cities this well. . . . An exciting addition to the new canon of brave contemporary novels devoted to our twenty-first century lives, its every page bearing witness to the dark, desperately digging for hope, the work of a fine novelist writing unflinching before all the good and the bad, the ugly and the ultimately beautiful." - Matt Bell, author of SCRAPPER
"Angels of Detroit is an unforgettable take on one of America’s great urban tragedies. Its ruins are real and devastating, crowded with magnificent characters, shot through with passion, alive with history, drama, and courage. I read this novel urgently, feeling wonder on every page." - Whitney Terrell, author of THE GOOD LIEUTENANT
"Hebert’s varied and vividly-drawn ensemble cast brings to life a portrait of Detroit so multifaceted that it is, really, an original literary vision of late-capitalist America. Damning, true, prophetic: Angels of Detroit is also compelling, driven by an authentic realism and intricate plotting that is --literally--explosive. A profoundly satisfying novel about vital issues driven by living characters--about whom I will be thinking for a long time." - Neil Gordon, author of THE COMPANY YOU KEEP
"So completely did I fall for the misfits and idealists that populate Angels of Detroit that more than once I found myself on Google Maps, seeking signs of their real life counterparts, infusing that beleaguered city with hope. Christopher Hebert's wondrous novel brims and bristles with the rarest of fictional qualities: raw humanity." - David Goodwillie, author of AMERICAN SUBVERSIVE
"A testament to the complexities of Detroit--as well as Hebert’s dedication to portraying the city with honesty and integrity . . . The book has garnered praise for its prose, but it is also rich with plot." - Detroit Free Press