Laura Bernstein-Machlay is a native of Detroit who, after decades away, returned to her home to find it hovering on the brink of massive change. The city, past and present, is the backdrop for her essays.
Most of the essays are personal reminiscences: the freedom of being young in the 1970s and 1980s; growing up in a close-knit Jewish family; thoughts on being a granddaughter, a daughter, and a mother.
“Weather” opens with two memory fragments of rain in the 1990s, then shifts farther back to a childhood recollection of worrying over her mother’s failure to arrive home in a horrific storm. The conclusion, which portrays a child’s sweeping sense of relief when her mother belatedly appears, is the heart of the essay.
Detroit is the presence in background. When it steps onto the stage, its glimmer is electric, making you want to hear more, see more, go there.
Setups are overly long, though, and inconsequential details tend to overwhelm the core material. One trail of thought leads to another before the first is fully developed. Frequent jumps back and forth in time, abrupt shifts in locale, and time spent introducing walk-on characters at the cost of developing recurrent ones add to a sense of missed connections.
The collection’s personal reflections on children and family are familiar territory; it’s through the bravery of its concept—going back to the place where you grew up to plant your flag in uncertain turf—that the book most delivers. Poised between sinking back into nature and leaping forward to revival, flashing glimpses of Detroit stand out.
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