Say Nice Things about Detroit
Scott Lasser
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Buy *Say Nice Things about Detroit* by Scott Lasser online

Say Nice Things about Detroit
Scott Lasser
W.W. Norton
272 pages
July 2012
rated 4 of 5 possible stars

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A mystery underlies Lasser’s thoughtful novel of a man returning to the city of his youth to assist elderly parents in distress, but only in a peripheral sense. The senseless murder of two people grows more meaningful and textured by the story’s end.

Leaving Colorado, a failed marriage and a dead son behind, David Halpert returns to Detroit not knowing what to expect other than his mother’s slow slide into dementia. He is both shocked and saddened by a newspaper article that describes two recent murders of a black man and a white woman: Dirk and Natalie, both well known to David from his younger days. They are actually brother and sister, sharing the same mother but raised separately in a racially sensitive city.

In offering his condolences to the victims’ mother, David becomes reacquainted with Carolyn, Natalie’s younger sister, who has come to comfort her grieving mother. Seeing Carolyn evokes powerful memories for David, Natalie a former girlfriend and an integral part of his adolescence. The pair far from home—Carolyn from California, where her husband and son impatiently await her return—the attraction between David and Carolyn is a surprise to both, yet neither is able to resist the emotional tug of their shared company.

While the evolution of this new relationship and the problems that ensue in the near future are the main focus of the novel, Lasser deepens the texture of his story through the introduction of other meaningful characters, in particular a wayward young man who creates a link between past and present, between Dirk and David. Halpert finds his way back to Detroit in an emotional shift beyond the geographic, a place where memory and the roads not taken seem insignificant in the light of new opportunities. Dirk’s legacy to his neighborhood and his best friend bears unexpected fruit in the synchronicity of circumstances and the dilemma of a young man needing a fresh start.

While David understands you can’t really go home again, he also understands the value of place, content to stay in Detroit permanently while Carolyn faces the difficult choice of remaining in an unhappy marriage or starting over with him in the city of their youth. The mystery of the killings is finally put to rest at the novel’s end, a testament to Lasser’s skill and appreciation for the nuances of human behavior regardless of race in a linked tapestry of family, friends and the vagaries of fate: “When bad things happen to someone, it’s usually because he ran into the wrong guy.”

Originally published on Curled Up With A Good Book at © Luan Gaines, 2012

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