Recent Reads: ‘Teardown’

Teardown: Memoir of a Vanishing City
Gordon Young
University of California Press
“There were no guarantees.”

That sentence closes this memoir’s penultimate chapter, a telling decree upon Flint’s future ability to overcome its current woes and still yet persevere through unseen woes to come. Reporter Gordon Young, having lived in San Francisco for 15 years, returns to his hometown in 2009 to attempt re-establishing a home life for himself amid the broken city by buying a house.

At least, that’s the bare bones “plan” for his anthropological study of a city that once boasted one of the highest per-capita incomes worldwide, treasured as “Fabulous Flint” that epitomized the American Dream during the glory days of production for the Big Three automaker’s in the 50’s and 60’s. Young can get a bit tangential in recounting his adventures through the housing market of the city and his various encounters (and eventual close acquaintances) with intriguing citizens and officials, sometimes overreaching in his incurring his other home, The City By The Bay, as a tacit side-by-side comparison of that city’s gloss against Flint’s rust.

Having been born in the late 60’s and raised through the early 70’s, Young’s perspective is intriguing, growing up at the dawn of Flint’s decline. Some of the imagery, poetically conjured as “vacant lots landscaped with Hennessey cognac bottles and several trees scored by fire,” suggests a slight embellishment of ruin-porn, yes, but perhaps that’s inevitable? Young splices in breezy, readable, yet well-researched blurbs of history to provide a jumping off point to ponder what happened. But his plan, his “mission,” is slightly less concerned with what happened than he is with: what next? This is a 70-30 memoir split between city and author – as you’ll read as much about Flint as you will about the personal history (and ever-shaping outlook) of Young, himself. Young discovers a city that’s certainly changed a lot, but still has “pride and dignity.”

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