Sheer Joy in Detroit

What makes the Motor City tick? People keep telling Shawn Dygert that "the whole place is run by five or six guys who live on the same street." And somebody who works for them wants everything Shawn has. There's no way, Shawn is told, that he can beat them in this rigged game. But the words he heard in a noisy, crowded factory tavern continue to fill his ears -- I’ll go down swinging ... More

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About Van Ledyard

A Note from VL:

For a long time now, friends have asked me to tell them what it was like growing up in Detroit. They’ve seen the stories in the newspapers, read about the bankrupt car companies and corrupt city officials, the horrific crime news, and spent time with the picture books and videos of The Ruins. A few have even tramped around the old Packard plant where they bump into other tourists with cameras.

I tell them, it’s hard to say. You want to explain. But when you begin to isolate this thing or that, it falls apart. Because this Detroit, as sick and troubled and worn out as it is, is a living thing populated by real people. So to explain this place, to dissect it, is the surest way to miss what’s alive in it. Or most amazing of all, what's beautiful in it.

Aleksandr Solzhenitsyn wrote that, “the line dividing good and evil cuts through the heart of every human being.” I believe that to be true. That line runs through the heart of each and every Detroiter, north and south of 8 Mile Road. If you accept that, then you see there’s really no solution for Detroit, at least not in the way most people think. More traveling experts with their political prescriptions, more futile “task forces” and “public-private coalitions” won’t fix what’s been broken for so long in this city. Healing can however begin with the realization that Solzhenitsyn’s line does run through the heart of all those who own a little piece of the big and wounded soul of this city.

I wrote this book to explain all this to my friends, especially those perplexed by what they come eventually to label “the Detroit mentality.” I wrote the book in a way that might explain all this to them better than the usual brain-spun analysis. It’s a made up story about Shawn and Irene and all of the others. Whether I succeeded or not is up to them to decide, and you the reader.

Sheer Joy in Detroit is one man’s understanding of the place, fixed in one particular point of time. There are others.

February 2012

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