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Angels Or Demons? New Novel Outlines Struggles In Detroit

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Chris Hebert's second novel, Angels of Detroit, has what a stage manager would call an ensemble cast: Close to a dozen characters, all with different backgrounds, upbringings, political views and economic security. The one connection is that they are all denizens of Detroit, Michigan, a city whose best days may be in its past. Each character wrestles with ideas about the future - the city's, and their own.

Hebert, an assistant professor of English at the University of Tennessee, tells WUOT All Things Considered host Brandon Hollingsworth that Angels of Detroit is meant to set up the questions, and the show the reader the answers aren't easy.

"When you go to Detroit, you see a lot of billboards and signs urging you to say nice things about Detroit, because it gets a lot of bad press," Hebert says. "[City leaders] tried to fix a lot problems [postwar], and they're trying to fix them now. And they're just running up against the wall that those problems are hard to fix."

Political activists turning to extreme methods to make their point. An aging corporate executive fighting an effort to move business out of town. A grandmother planting a community garden. A child whose imagination turns vacant lots into personal playlands. All live in Detroit, and all see it from different angles, and Hebert says that's exactly the point.

"I think one of the most important things literature can do is help us just understand who other people are," he says. "Once we can do that, once we can stop treating each other as an inexplicable other, that we just cannot possibly see the other side of things...the book doesn't end with a recipe for solving Detroit. But I hope it ends with a deeper sense of what the situation means, and what we're up against."

Hollingsworth and Hebert spoke on Wednesday, July 13.