I’m always on the lookout for books and poetry related to Michigan, and I chanced upon Sheer Joy in Detroit this past weekend. I was attracted to the tale set in my old stomping grounds where I once toiled as an ink-stained wretch for the automotive industry, worked at the Detroit Athletic Club (the setting for a crucial scene in the novel), and witnessed firsthand the devastation of the once-great city of Detroit and many of the family businesses that once thrived there.
Sheer Joy isn’t just a downer, written by some hipster dude who delights in relating Detroit’s downfall, however. Van Ledyard instead has his protagonist rise above despair to repair his own corner of Southeast Michigan, his friendships and, ultimately, his own soul. These accomplishments arise not through divine intervention, but through Shawn Dygart’s hard work and heart (and some advice from a Greek Orthodox priest) as he faces attempts by shady automotive purchasing agents to extort money from their vendors (which resonates with real-life experiences of the early 1990s automotive industry).
The result is a rollicking page-turner that brings to mind the Baltimore-set novels of crime writer George Pelecanos, who, incidentally, also focuses on the Greek subculture in urban America. Not only does Ledyard capture the second- and third-tier travails of Detroit’s automotive suppliers and Greeks. He also brings some riveting blue-collar hockey league games to life, which helps drive the plot forward and provides some wonderful character development.
My advice is to approach Sheer Joy as a great novel of recent Motown history and proceed with a great hybrid of Elmore Leonard crime fiction, Richard Ford coming-of-middle-age with a dash of sports, and a hint of Graham Greene felix culpa. You won’t be disappointed, and you’ll more than likely put down the book inspired to take on the challenges faced in daily life.