“The small, white ‘art community’ in Detroit complained that I was focusing on the negative in a city with so much good. What about all the galleries and museums and music? They complained in a flurry of e-mails and blogs. What about the good things?
"It was a fair point. There are plenty of good people in Detroit. Tens of thousands of them. Hundreds of thousands. There are lawyers and doctors and auto executives with nice homes and and good jobs and community elders trying to make things better, teachers who spend their own money on the classroom, people who mow lawns out of respect for the dead neighbor, parents who raise their children, ministers who help with funeral expenses.
"But these things are not supposed to be news. These things are supposed to be normal. And when normal things become the news, the abnormal becomes the norm. And when that happens, you might as well put a fork in it.”
Go ahead and laugh at Detroit. Because you are laughing at yourself.
In cities and towns across the country, whole factories are auctioned off. Men with trucks haul away tool-and-die machines, aluminum siding, hoists, drinking fountains. It is the ripping out of the country’s mechanical heart right before your eyes.
A newly hired autoworker will earn $14 an hour. This, adjusted for inflation, is three cents lessthan what henry Ford was paying in 1914 when he announced the $5 day. And, of course, Ford isn’t hiring.
from Detroit: An American Autopsy by Charlie LeDuff
Even while reading an interesting text, I sometimes feel underwhelmed by the content I am reading. For example, in this section of the book, I was almost bored by the story. I wanted LeDuff to make these intense stories he was telling sound interesting, as he spoke of corruption and arrest of political officials in Detroit. Kilpatrick had finally been reprimanded for embezzling money from the city; Monica Conyers was fighting with a thirteen-year-old in mass media; both of Charlie’s brothers are struggling to make a living. Even as LeDuff exclaims that Detroit is breaking his heart, he maintains the collected and calculated tone that this entire piece has had. The story so far is at best, a cautionary tale and, at worst, bleak and dismal.
I don’t believe that any writer is obliged to write to entertain. However, as a reader, it is a turn-off to never have a change of pace, or tone, or plot twist.
When a story finally begins to pick up, the writers true intentions are often brought to the forefront of the narrative. In LeDuff’s case, it seems that he preferred facts first, emotions later; until his emotions about the facts became unbearable. LeDuff is being mentally destroyed by his city, of which he says “There are still a lot of good people in this city trying to hold it together with gum and bailing wire.” He is trying to expose corruption to people; the extent of the poverty and unemployment. This is so that, maybe, those good people he mentioned will be able to see what is truly wrong with the city. Since he is a reporter, he can’t exactly do anything, but he can expose as much as he can so that maybe, they will come up with a permanent solution.
Only once you’ve read many books, can you begin to be familiar with the anatomy of them. It’s much like learning to be a doctor, but it’s also like making a friend. As the story goes on, things start to connect, barriers fall, and, in nonfiction writing, the writing seems more comfortable, if only because you are more familiar with it.
I found LeDuff’s writing to be very dry, almost too informative to write a fluid novel. His Bukowski-esque tone of trying to say more when saying less was intriguing at first, until it became exhausting, as a reader. No writer, as I’ve mentioned, is obliged to write to entertain an audience; however, when telling the same types of stories in the manner one would write a newspaper, there needs to be some language which eases the reader’s boredom and frustration.
This being said, in this section, you can feel the novel beginning to pick up. The drama of his anecdotes is increasing, as are his emotions. Perhaps he wrote the first section, Fire, with mostly facts, since he had no ties to the stories. He was an observer. But now, he is invested. He mentions that “the city turned on him” after his story about the frozen man in the elevator shaft. I think that’s when the story started to change tone, since he didn’t want to lose the support of his city. This, combined with his niece dying, his brother quitting his job– these are the real reasons he came back to Detroit.
Our class argued over whether Charlie is selfish, or whether he made a mistake bringing his family there. We, as readers, could not see his motives, because he did not tell them to us. The time and rate when the author wishes to give information to us is their discretion, and it is likely that LeDuff did not tell us all of the information because it was either not important at the time, or he wanted to show us, through what happens later. He mentioned his sister earlier in the book, but we just found out how she died. He says his mother slaved to keep their family together, but only later mentioned that her flower shop was burned down by the same type of arsonists who unintentionally killed Harris.
Sometimes, readers get bored of a book, because there is no emotion or action in the story right at the beginning. Good authors know how to build up a story to increase interest. Great authors know when. LeDuff, at this point, could be either.