Monday, July 30, 2007

Book Review: The Other Side of the River

July 30, 2007

This book by Alex Kotlowitz (author of the best-selling There Are No Children Here) is praised by Kirkus Reviews as being "A powerful record of an untimely death in middle America." The disappointment is that this is not a particularly powerful nor compelling book, although the subject matter certainly is compelling. This nonfiction account is of two cities in Michigan: lily-white and rich St. Joseph and poverty-stricken and black Benton Harbor, just across the river. This could have been a powerful book because the contrast between these two towns is fascinating; however, Kotlowitz stumbles as a writer, taking the long way about and leaving a maze of jumbled stories. I couldn't help but compare this to John Grisham's The Innocent Man, which follows a similar story of injustice and an unsolved crime. Where Grisham uses his storytelling skills to make his nonfiction account read like a mystery as well as a social commentary, Kotlowitz's story lacks the kind of personal close-ups that makes for a gripping tale. He could have done a lot more to make the reader know the characters on a deeper level.

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