Say Nice Things About Detroit isn’t a book that will foster much buzz, even though it’s received solid reviews from critics. It’s simply not popular fiction. What it is, rather, is smart, spare, prose, about very real characters living in a very gritty Detroit, Michigan.
Say Nice Things… centers around David Halpert, who returns to Detroit after the death of his son, and the failure of his marriage. David proves to be a rather successful attorney and good citizen, and is dismayed by the perpetual economic and social decline of his hometown (the very reasons he left in the first place). These feelings are compounded by the murder of Natalie, his highschool girlfriend, and her black half-brother, Dirk, a retired FBI agent. But something within keeps David rooted. He purchases Dirk’s old home in a mostly black neighborhood, and befriends a young man who it turns out may have been responsible for Dirk and Natalie’s murder.
Along the way, Lasser paints a clear portrait of the city and streets in which these characters live, which serves as a backdrop to the crime, poverty and racial tensions that seem to pervade. Gritty, yes, with some realistic moments of tension; but also hopeful, revealing glimmers of humanity in unsuspecting places. Well worth reading.