Thursday, July 14, 2016

SHOT IN DETROIT by Patricia Abbott

Why did it surprise me that one of the major characters in Patricia Abbott's Shot in Detroit was the city of Detroit?

Detroit artist and photographer Violet Hart struggles to make her mark in a struggling city.

She ends up photographing black corpses in Bill Fontenel's funeral home. Along the way, she falls in love with Bill; she befriends a bipolar street artist who sets up his creations along the river; and she finds out more about her missing father.

She also learns about herself and Detroit. Both are desperately resilient, struggling to succeed, and in Violet's case, willing to use a taboo subject to create art.

When someone murders her street artist friend, Violet keeps on taking photographs including a photograph of him. It is the only photograph of a white person in her collection.

Violet is not self confident (to use a sort of double negative). She struggles with whether she is doing the right thing. She wonders if love is more important than her art. And she has the sense that tragedy always waits in the wings.

The most interesting part of the story is in how she faces the book's final tragedy, but I will leave that for you to read.

At one point, Violet asks herself, "Did it always have to be about race? If I lived in Seattle or Minneapolis instead of Detroit, would I be free of it?" 

And the answer is, "No. She wouldn't be free of it in some other city. What happened in the United States in the last two weeks confirms that." But Shot in Detroit is about Violet, Bill, and Violet's street artist friend. Most of all, it is about the way they reflect the city of Detroit.

This book is filled with a realistic love of Detroit. It is set in 2011. Abbott is clear in her Afterword. The Detroit of today is not the Detroit of 2011. Detroit is now making what Abbott calls a "recent (and hopefully permanent) resurgence..."

I found myself asking if she could have published this book before the resurgence. She seems to care enough about the city that I wonder if she could have written so openly about the city's struggles before there was a light of hope.

I'm a small town person. I can't understand exactly what Patricia Abbott understands about Detroit, but I saw her commitment to the city in almost every word she wrote.

Fair warning--If you are looking for a cozy type book, this is not the book for you. But if you are looking for an excellent book by someone who loves her struggling city and who sees it with clear eyes, you will want to read Patricia Abbott's Shot in Detroit.


pattinase (abbott) said...

Thanks so much, Joe. Glad you understood that Violet and Detroit are one.

Joe Barone said...

You are welcome. I figure you are the kind of writer who believes that the greatest compliment you can pay a character (or a city) is to look at it without compromise. This book does that for Violet and Detroit. When I thought about it, it seemed to me that uncompromising honesty is at the heart of good noir fiction.