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You Don't Have to Live Like This: A…
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You Don't Have to Live Like This: A Novel

by Benjamin Markovits

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The narrator of this novel begins by saying he’s never been much good at telling stories. His brother always chided him for his ‘this and then this and then this’ approach. This has the effect of immediately undercutting any criticism. If you say it’s not a well structured, or paced, or interesting story, the author is free to respond, it’s not meant to be.

The premise is great. Greg Marnier (known to his friends as Marny) is an underachieving academic, who feels his life is going nowhere. His old college friend is a successful entrepreneur with political connections who is investing in the gentrification of Detroit. Marny, having nothing much else going on in his life, decides to move there and become a part of his vision.

I wanted to read this because I’d read a little about what was happening in Detroit and was interested in the issues it throws up. Marny is also a character of our time – highly educated but unable to convert that into secure and well paid employment.

However, this book didn’t work for me and it’s mostly down to the narration. ‘This and then this and then this’ may be authentic but it’s not necessarily interesting. Marny takes you stolidly through his life up until he decides to move, then we follow him in Detroit, where he apparently tells you about pretty much everyone he meets but you never really get to know any of them. Your perspective on the city’s landscape is the same. You’re seeing life from his point of view so you’re not getting much insight or overview.

There is a plot, which revolves around the conflict between the existing, mainly Black Detroit population and the mainly white, middle-class incomers. Marny finds himself caught in the middle, obviously belonging to the second group, but having relationships and sympathies with the first. You get some sense of the machinations of the political and business interests in the area but it’s hazy.

Overall, it didn’t grab me as a story and I feel I learnt as much about Detroit in 20 minutes online as I did from ploughing through this novel.
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I received an ARC from the publisher via Netgalley. ( )
  KateVane | Jul 11, 2015 |
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Amazon.com Product Description (ISBN 0062376608, Hardcover)

A frighteningly prescient novel of today’s America—one man’s story of a racially charged real estate experiment in Detroit, Michigan.

“You get in the habit of living a certain kind of life, you keep going in a certain direction, but most of the pressure on you is just momentum. As soon as you stop the momentum goes away. It’s easier than people think to walk out on things, I mean things like cities, leases, relationships and jobs.”

Greg Marnier, Marny to his friends, leaves a job he doesn’t much like and moves to Detroit, Michigan in 2009, where an old friend has a big idea about real estate and the revitalization of a once great American city. Once there, he gets involved in a fist-fight between two of his friends, a racially charged trial, an act of vigilante justice, a love affair with a local high school teacher, and a game of three-on-three basketball with the President—not to mention the money-soaked real estate project itself, cut out of 600 acres of emaciated Detroit. Marny’s billionaire buddy from Yale, Robert James, calls his project “the Groupon model for gentrification,” others call it “New Jamestown,” and Marny calls it home— until Robert James asks him to leave. This is the story of what went wrong.

You Don’t Have to Live Like This is the breakout novel from the “fabulously real” (Guardian) voice of the only American included in Granta’s Best of Young British Novelists. Using the framework of our present reality, Benjamin Markovits blurs the line between the fictional and the fact-based, and captures an invisible current threaded throughout American politics, economics, and society that is waiting to explode.

(retrieved from Amazon Fri, 03 Jul 2015 18:55:03 -0400)

(see all 2 descriptions)

Greg Marnier, Marny to his friends, leaves a job he doesn t much like and moves to Detroit, Michigan in 2009, where an old friend has a big idea about real estate and the revitalization of a once great American city. Once there, he gets involved in a fist-fight between two of his friends, a racially charged trial, an act of vigilante justice, a love affair with a local high school teacher, and a game of three-on-three basketball with the President not to mention the money-soaked real estate project itself, cut out of 600 acres of emaciated Detroit. Marny' s billionaire buddy from Yale, Robert James, calls his project the Groupon model for gentrification, others call it New Jamestown, and Marny calls it home until Robert James asks him to leave. This is the story of what went wrong.… (more)

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