You Don't Have to Live Like This

Texas-born Benjamin Markovits left a checkered pro basketball career (chronicled in his forthcoming autobiographical novel, Playing Days) to write fiction. Living in London with five novels behind him (including a trilogy about the life of Lord Byron), he turns his focus to Detroit and its broken neighborhood grandeur. You Don't Have to Live Like This is told by Greg "Marny" Marnier, a 35-year-old disillusioned academic whose matter-of-fact narrative style lives up to his brother's childhood description of his storytelling skills as "this and then this and then this." At a Yale reunion, Marny reconnects with classmate Robert James, who has parlayed his preppie upbringing into a dot-com fortune. James decides to invest in Detroit real estate and create a "New Jamestown" of "settlers" who will rebuild homes and parks to establish a new community. He chooses Marny to join a cadre of young pioneers who are also tired of "working harder than they wanted to, making less money, living somewhere they didn't want to live."

Tentative but idealistic, Marny resurrects a large, boarded-up house, finds a substitute teaching job and forms a new romantic relationship. But neighbors on Marny's block who had struggled to keep their homes when the city was crumbling around them are not uniformly welcoming to the swarm of young colonizers. Anger festers, harsh words fly, and guns appear. Like the utopian comradery of Lord of the Flies, James's "Starting-from-Scratch-in-America" community comes undone. Fixing Detroit is not going to happen with a pot of money and a nucleus of idealistic youth, but Markovits's story is a half-court shot that comes up nothing but net. --Bruce Jacobs, founding partner Watermark Books & Cafe, Wichita, Kan.

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