GHETTOSIDE: A TRUE STORY OF MURDER IN AMERICA
By Jill Leovy (Spiegel & Grau 384 pages, $28.)
At the heart of Jill Leovy's exploration into life and death in some of Los Angeles' toughest neighborhoods is the kind of murder that rarely gets much ink: that of a young black man, gunned down by other young black men.
Leovy, a longtime Los Angeles Times reporter who spent several years embedded with LAPD detectives, pieces together the case. From those notebook pages, we get a frequently painful look into the lives of weary detectives and sobbing mothers, meeting time and time again over bodies crumpled in the street.
The numbers she shares are stark; in the approximately two years between the book's central murder and the subsequent trial, more than 500 black men and boys were killed in Los Angeles County. But Leovy's careful attention to the people caught up in a cycle of violence makes the argument that the toll is far greater — on the victims' families, the people who investigate the crimes and on the rest of us, who should be paying more attention.
A FIREPROOF HOME FOR THE BRIDE
By Amy Scheibe (St. Martin's Press, 371 pages, $26.99)
The Coen brothers established Fargo as synonymous with quirky folk and bizarre deeds, but Amy Scheibe seeks to right the balance with her second novel, using wintry Fargo-Moorhead in the late 1950s as the setting for an absorbing story about an 18-year-old breaking away from the legacy of her severe upbringing to chart her own course.
Growing up on a beet farm near Glyndon, Minn., Emmy Nelson is promised in marriage to neighbor Ambrose Brann, but after her family moves to Moorhead she meets worldly city girls and glimpses new possibilities for herself. Increasingly disillusioned with Ambrose, she begins seeing a Catholic boy from Fargo — a no-no for her conservative Lutheran clan. Eventually she takes a room with her colorful great-aunt, goes to work running the switchboard at the Fargo Forum and begins to unearth troubling secrets about her family's intolerant past.
Scheibe, a New York book editor before she began writing full-time, was born in Moorhead and grew up on a North Dakota farm, so she knows the area well. The book is crowded with choice details that will resonate with locals: cruising Broadway, the deadly 1957 Fargo tornado, my alma mater Shanley High School, Moorhead's American Crystal Sugar plant, former Fargo Mayor Herschel Lashkowitz.
It's an ambitious novel that takes on plenty of loaded issues, lyrical in many parts and perhaps a tad overwritten in others — Scheibe is a terrific writer, so much so that at times it's hard to see the story line through all the effortless metaphors — but it keeps the reader guessing how things will turn out for Emmy until the very end. And you will want to find out.