The stories in Lisa Lenzo’s new collection are placed primarily, although not exclusively, in Detroit. It’s a Detroit just before the recent gentrifications, and a city with vibrant friendships among neighbors, of people who take walks at night to get some air, who are cautious but unafraid. And these are often stories about caregivers, both the official ones who provide care for a living, but more often about those among us who take care of our neighbors and our families because that is what people do. That is the demand of love.
In the title story, “Unblinking,” an older white couple lives in a condo downtown. The husband, Ralph, is very frail and has slipped into the creeping dementia that sometimes comes with Parkinson’s. His wife Rosie has decided she can take care of him on her own. She takes him out rather late one evening to go to the corner market, but the journey becomes epically difficult. Ralph begins to slip out of his wheelchair and Rosie is too frail to get him back in. When he finally slips all the way out, Rosie is at a loss and begins to feel desperate. Four young black men, talking rough and swaggering down the street, rush over to help. They don’t act like they’ve done anything heroic or even good. They’ve just done what they must do to help in the neighborhood. They walk the old couple back to their condo, remarking on the crescent moon rising over the city. It’s hard to write about goodness. It seems like much in our history and our time conspires against the possibility of it. So many of us, otherwise well-intentioned readers, are skeptical of goodness. Yet Lisa Lenzo has found a way to write about it. Her sentences are clear and direct. Unadorned. She lets action stand by itself, without comment. She lets people act with their uncertainties, even their stupidities, but she understands the world as a place where people can do good things – they care and their actions often show that care. I also suspect – although I’m partly guessing – that much of the world described in these stories is very close to life Lisa Lenzo has lived and to the world she knows. Just a couple of internet searches let us know she was raised in Detroit, and that she spent many years driving a bus in the Saugatuck/Douglas area on the west side of the state. It is one of the more interesting day jobs for a writer that I’ve heard about recently. One of my favorite stories in Unblinking, “Lorelei,” begins “In the mornings, I write stories; in the afternoons I drive for the public bus that provides door-to-door service in and around Saugatuck, Michigan. We carry the young and old, rich and poor, able-bodied and disabled; anyone who needs or wants a ride.” That feels very close to reality, and might also be an explanation for the generosity of these short stories, for the care they give to the characters who live in them.