New Fiction: You Don’t Have to Live Like This – Benjamin Markovits

Markovits is an American writer living in England. But make no mistake–this is a distinctly American story, a kind of literary thought experiment about social engineering and—hopefully—reviving a Rust Belt city.

What raises this book up is the way Markovits uses character to animate and drive the story. We recognize the types and he does a good job of enlivening them: the brash, newly rich young Yale grad who decides to buy up a five-mile section of Detroit and offer a crowd-sourced version of “20 acres and a mule”; the mostly white, middle class people who take a chance on starting over in attempt to get a new toe-hold on the American dream; our narrator who is a drifty college pal of the rich guy and looking for a personal reboot; the black school teacher who becomes his girlfriend and the black neighbor who resents the interlopers and their gentrification.

Are the rich guys really using altruism as a front for a Goldman Sachs scheme? Does the President show up in Indian Village to endorse the project and play a little pick-up basketball? Does something go terribly wrong between the old neighbors and the middle class “immigrants”? Yes, yes and yes. But what you’ll remember is the story of individuals—flawed and biased–dealing with issues of race and class that continue to vex our nation.

Markovits was named one of Granta’s 20 Best British Novelists Under 40 a couple of years ago. Expect a USA Today review at on sale, as well as a New York Times Magazine piece.

Set in the years after the 2008 global financial collapse, the novel tells the story of Greg ‘Marny’ Marnier, a 30-something Yale graduate and failed academic who, lacking better alternatives, follows his old classmate, a millionaire entrepreneur named Robert James, to Detroit, where James hopes to a revitalize several down-and-out neighborhoods according to what he calls the ‘Groupon model for gentrification.’….[R]acially charged incidents ensue, culminating in a trial and national media storm that for many readers will call to mind recent events in Ferguson, Mo., Staten Island, N.Y., and North Charleston, S.C., among others….Markovits writes boldly about some of our era’s most important—and most delicate—subjects.”
Publishers Weekly

“[T]his ‘New Jamestown’ attracts a pell-mell batch of hippies, tea partiers, do-gooders, and folks just eager to live off the grid. But while the effort attracts national attention…the (mostly black) locals tend to see the (mostly white) migrants as an occupying force….[I]t gives nothing away to say that Starting-From-Scratch-in-America doesn’t quite work out as planned, and the novel echoes Marny’s disappointment that a community with a clean slate couldn’t shrug off its old baggage about economics and race….Markovits gamely works to make this a realistic and nuanced portrait of modern-day Detroit while keeping the plot moving with some humor and romance, and he’s careful not to make the city’s problems simplistically black and white….”
Kirkus Reviews

“A very smart book, with vividly drawn characters and densely woven themes.”
Telegraph (London)

You Don’t Have to Live Like This (9780062376602) by Benjamin Markovits. $27.99 hardcover. 7/7/15 on sale.

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