You Don’t Have to Live Like This
by Benjamin Markovits
This book intrigued me because it was set in present day Detroit. Since I have lived my whole life in the Detroit Metro area, I figured that it was a must-read. The story mirrors what is going on it Detroit. It tells a story of a group of investors who want to buy up the abandoned, burned out, run-down or torn down properties in a section of Detroit. They want to purchase all the homes, even the ones that people are living in. They want to rebuild 5 square miles of Detroit and make a large profit doing it.
Mr. Markovits tells this story from the point of view of Greg Marnier. He grew up as a fairly intelligent, but not very motivated child. He did what was expected of him, and kind of just went along with everything. He graduated from Yale and then went to Oxford, because he didn’t really have any desires of his own. He ended up as an untenured, part-time history professor at a small college in Wales.
Marny, what his friends call him, flys back to the States for a reunion of sorts. Some of his buddies from Yale are getting together. They talk about what they are doing with their lives, and Marny decides that his life is crap. He wants a change, so he decides to quit teaching and go home to Baton Rouge. That’s not working either, so when one of the Yalies, Robert James, asks him if he would be willing to be part of his scheme to rebuild Detroit and possibly make a fortune doing it, he says why not.
Since this is really Marny’s story, many of the events surrounding the Detroit plan happen behind the scenes. The story isn’t really a mystery, but Marny does try to figure out some things that are going on, but most of the story is what happens to Marny. It’s about how he grows close to some of his neighbors and especially how he meets and falls in love with a black women, who is a teacher in a Detroit high school. You get to see, though his eyes, what this project is doing to the city and its residents. You also get to ask the question “Is this the right way to rebuild a city?”
I liked this book, but what worked for me might not mean much to someone who doesn’t have a connection with Detroit. All of the references were quite accurate, but those details might get in the way for someone not familiar with the area, or maybe not, I don’t know. Mr. Markovits does a very good job of telling a believable story, using authentic details, and characters that you care about. The story moves a little slowly, but that may not be a bad thing.
I give You Don’t Have to Live Like This 4 Stars out of 5 and a Thumbs Up. If you are ready for a well written first-person novel with an interesting ethical quandary, then give You Don’t Have to Live Like This a read.
I received a Digital Reader’s Copy from the publisher.
“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.
Hardcover: 400 pages
Publisher: Harper (July 7, 2015)
Product Dimensions: 6 x 1.2 x 9 inches
Shipping Weight: 1.4 pounds
About the Author
Benjamin Markovits grew up in Texas, London, Oxford and Berlin. He left an unpromising career as a professional basketball player to study the Romantics—an experience he wrote about in Playing Days, a fictional memoir forthcoming in the U.S. from Harper Perennial. He has written essays, stories and reviews for, among other publications, The New York Times, Granta, The Guardian, London Review of Books and The Paris Review. The author of six novels, including a trilogy on the life of Lord Byron, he was a fellow of the Radcliffe Institute for Advanced Study at Harvard and won a Pushcart Prize in 2009. Granta selected him as one of the Best of Young British Novelists in 2013. Markovits lives in London and is married, with a daughter and a son.