Charlie Leduff’s Detroit- Snapshot or Caricature?

I believe Leduff is an interesting paradox when it comes to writing a book about Detroit. Yes, he did grow up in that city. Therefore, he is a native. He has natural hometown pride and a love for his city like anyone else.  This could be a major strength in his writing. But this is a double-edged sword. His childhood was tainted with horrific experiences that can largely be tied into the city itself. His sister died on the streets as a prostitute. There is a lot of emotion tied into his experiences in Detroit.  In his adult life, Leduff had a very successful career as a journalist in the biggest, most vivacious cities in America. He has experienced a plentiful life outside of Detroit. As an outsider, he knows how remove himself from the place in which he grew up. He can look at Detroit as an objective observer. However, that dislocates some of the passion that he has innately within him. Both his Outsider and Native status are strengths and weaknesses- whichever perspective he chooses to focus on, the other will become a hinderence. However, from what I have read so far in the book, LeDuff has had no problem maintaining homeostatis- just enough hometown passion balanced with well-traveled wisdom.

Leduff’s writing style itself is an immense strength for his given subject matter. I mentioned it before in class- his writing is not poetic. It’s not flowery or sugar-coated. It can be crass and vulgar, or cold and removed.  His words can pierce and sting the reader.

            “One fucking depressing, dysfunctional big glowing ball of color. One unbelievable story after another.”

His style may not be pretty, but neither is the city of Detroit. The city makes a large impact on the observer, and Leduff’s words are meant to make an impact on the reader. He wants you to have an opinion of him. He is incredibly passionate, and wants to strike a similar fervor in you. Many people could look at this amount of passion as a weakness. His writing could easily tend toward sensationalism– making it very difficult for the reader to disagree with him or remain objective. He also could let all of his personal feelings towards the city impede on his rule as a journalist, a partial observer. Leduff’s insatiable passion could cause him to write a caricature of the city rather than take a snapshot. However, he has made his point very clear- he wants you to have an opinion on the implications of this hazardous, decrypted, remarkable city.  His writing is meant to stir something  in you. This is not a book he wants you to put down and walk away from unchanged. It’s a book meant to be red-hot, not lukewarm.

I found this blog post that chronicles journalists in Detroit arguing fairness in the book. The author uses the same adjective. He says: “Charlie Leduff doesn’t want you to feel lukewarm about him.” I thought the views these journalists had on whether or not Leduff was credible were very interesting.


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