Book Reviews

Read time: 4 minutes

Every Anxious Wave

By Mo Daviau, MFA’13
St. Martin’s Press, 2016

IN MY SENIOR YEAR of high school, I missed an intimate Bjork concert to go to homecoming with a boy I liked. Twenty years later, that boy is history, but I wish I could go back in time and see the show.

Karl Bender, the protagonist of Mo Daviau’s debut novel, “Every Anxious Wave,” might quibble with my musical taste, but he’d get the regret. Karl is a washed-up rock star who owns a Chicago bar and spends his time drinking away the disappointing present with his best friend, Wayne. They “regarded our pasts with such love and loss that every day forward was a butter knife to the gut.”

Thus, when a wormhole to the past opens up in Karl’s closet, he doesn’t waste time asking why. Instead, he gets to work, time-traveling to the most inspiring rock concerts in history. Soon, he and Wayne are charging customers for the same kind of travel, but with the caveat that changing the past is strictly forbidden.

Such rules, however, are made to be broken, and Daviau’s characters start breaking them immediately, with predictably unpredictable results. When Wayne accidentally gets stuck in the year 980, the astrophysicist that Karl enlists to rescue him is Lena Geduldig, a chubby, prickly heartbreaker who might just be Karl’s soulmate—but only if he can get over his past in time to keep from ruining their future.

Daviau’s sharp, witty prose trips lightly through the ensuing time-travel paradoxes, letting this unconventional love story unfold in bursts of sarcastic dialogue and increasingly serious revelations about Lena’s past. Karl and Lena are bruised survivors of an unfair life—both lost their mothers when they were young—and their shared affinity for indie rock and wise-cracking profanity covers up profound, and profoundly different, vulnerabilities.

Karl can’t let go of past glories, even using his first time-travel date with Lena to visit an ex-girlfriend he’s still hung up on. Lena might be too scarred by past abuse to love again. As the flawed lovers chase each other into a post-apocalyptic future, Daviau asks: If we could go back in time and fix our past trauma, would we free ourselves to save the world—or just forget who we are?

Probably the latter. “Besides,” as Karl points out, “why would we need music if our lives were exactly as we wanted them to be?” That’s something to contemplate while listening to Bjork and waiting for the follow-up to this promising debut. – AMY GENTRY

Detroit Hustle: A Memoir of Love, Life & Home

By Amy Haimerl, Knight-Wallace Fellow 2013
Running Press, 2016

In 2013, following her journalism fellowship at U-M, Brooklyn-based writer Amy Haimerl and her husband purchased a historic, yet long-dilapidated, home in Detroit with dreams of renovation. Her memoir, “Detroit Hustle,” is an account of the months spent turning the house into a home. But it’s more than that. It’s also an account of the rehabilitation of the city and of Haimerl herself.

The author names her newly acquired West Village property “Matilda” and hires an eccentric family of contractors (they’re prone to quoting literature as they work) for a gut renovation. At the same time, the city of Detroit is undergoing its own gut renovation. As Haimerl covers the Motor City’s landmark municipal bankruptcy trial for Crain’s Detroit Business, she becomes friendly with the neighbors and local entrepreneurs trying to turn around its fortunes. Haimerl knows something of turning around fortunes. Originally from a poor community in rural Colorado, she has already weathered one failed marriage and real estate venture in her home state by the time she elects to settle in Detroit.

Though Haimerl sees the project as her own approach to “Under the Tuscan Sun,” she quickly finds that renovating a house can be emotionally and financially draining. And that’s before she tackles the thorny matter of how best to ingratiate herself with the Detroit community. From the first page, Haimerl has pegged herself as “just another New Yorker scoping cheap houses in the Motor City.” But she and her husband, Karl, quickly decide not to let that perception settle. They scout neighborhood bars and businesses and talk up everyone they meet, desperately trying not to be the bad guys who think they’re coming to “save” a city that doesn’t want saving.

Haimerl balances the memoir aspect of her book—stories of being raised in Colorado by her father and of blissful, pre-Detroit life in Red Hook, Brooklyn—with the nitty-gritty details of putting together a house. The contractors have to rebuild the inside in a certain order or risk the ire of the historical preservation society. But they are also limited by budget, and at one point they inform the author that she can have either windows or plumbing, but not both.

Haimerl laments how much of her own savings she’s forced to put on the line, an investment she’s unlikely to see a return on for a long time. By the end, it amounts to more than $400,000. Yet she continues to believe in the future of Detroit even as its follies and foibles play out every day in the bankruptcy courtroom. That passion is the norm: Detroit is a city that can’t be attempted without true commitment. — ANDREW LAPIN, ’71

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