Grand Riv­er and Joy

Susan Mess­er
  • Review
By – December 22, 2011

Grand Riv­er and Joy is Susan Messer’s sen­si­tive, well-craft­ed nov­el about Jew­ish­black rela­tions in 1967 Detroit. Track­ing the fam­i­lies of a Jew­ish whole­sale shoe sales­man and his black ten­ant, Grand Riv­er and Joy explores ten­sions between mar­gin­al­ized peo­ple with dif­fer­ent skin col­or, focus­ing on con­flicts and loy­al­ty between polit­i­cal­ly pro­gres­sive, work­ing class urban Jews and their sub­ur­ban, upward­ly mobile rel­a­tives; between sec­u­lar and reli­gious fam­i­ly mem­bers, between hus­bands and wives, chil­dren and par­ents. Char­ac­ters are dis­tinct and well-defined, and clash­ing worlds of sub­ur­ban racial fear, racism, anti-Semi­tism, urban loy­al­ty, pro­gres­sive pol­i­tics and open-mind­ed­ness, desire for sanc­tu­ary, and the rebel­lious­ness of youth liv­ing with and with­out priv­i­lege, are hon­est­ly por­trayed. The Jew­ish pro­tag­o­nist, Har­ry Levine, and his black ten­ant, Cur­tis, are both mentch­es: liv­ing with duty, fear, restric­tion, com­pas­sion, and gen­eros­i­ty as their paths inter­sect with ener­gies lead­ing to the 1967 race riots in Detroit. 

Messer’s writ­ing is dense, del­i­cate, and charged, reveal­ing racial and eco­nom­ic argu­ments that will be famil­iar to many of us.

Ellie Bar­barash is a writer, musi­cian, and dis­abil­i­ty activist liv­ing in Philadel­phia. Her non-fic­tion has been pub­lished in Bridges. Ordained as a Kohenet, she is work­ing on pro­duc­ing an anthol­o­gy, Clear­ing the Spring, Sweet­en­ing the Waters: A Renewed Call to Torah.

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