Grand River and JoyBook - 2009
"With unsparing candor, Susan Messer thrusts us into a time when racial tensions sundered friends and neighbors and turned families upside down. The confrontations in Grand River and Joy are complex, challenging, bitterly funny, and---painful though it is to acknowledge it---spot-on accurate."
---Rosellen Brown, author of Before and After and Half a Heart
" Grand River and Joy is a rare novel of insight and inspiration. It's impossible not to like a book this well-written and meaningful---not to mention as historically significant, humorous, and meditative."
---Laura Kasischke, author of The Life Before Her Eyes and Be Mine
Halloween morning 1966, Harry Levine arrives at his wholesale shoe warehouse to find an ethnic slur soaped on the front window. As he scavenges around the sprawling warehouse basement, looking for the supplies he needs to clean the window, he makes more unsettling discoveries: a stash of Black Power literature; marijuana; a new phone line running off his own; and a makeshift living room, arranged by Alvin, the teenaged tenant who lives with his father, Curtis, above the warehouse. Accustomed to sloughing off fears about Detroit's troubled inner-city neighborhood, Harry dismisses the soaped window as a Halloween prank and gradually dismantles Alvin's lounge" in a silent conversation with the teenaged tenant. Still, these events and discoveries draw him more deeply into the frustrations and fissures permeating his city in the months leading up to the Detroit riots.
Grand River and Joy, named after a landmark intersection in Detroit, follows Harry through the intersections of his life and the history of his city. It's a work of fiction set in a world that is anything but fictional, a novel about the intersections between races, classes and religions exploding in the long, hot summers of Detroit in the 1960s. Grand River and Joy is a powerful and moving exploration of one of the most difficult chapters of Michigan history.
Susan Messer's fiction and nonfiction have appeared in numerous publications, including Glimmer Train Stories, North American Review, and Colorado Review. She received an Illinois Arts Council Fellowship in prose, an Illinois Arts Council literary award for creative nonfiction, and a prize in the Jewish Cultural Writing Competition of the Dora Teitelboim Center for Yiddish Culture.
Cover photograph copyright © Bill Rauhauser and Rauhauser Photographic Trust