In late August, Henry Holt released “Exiles in Eden: Life Among the Ruins of Florida’s Great Recession” by former Oxford American editor and man about town Paul Reyes. The book, which grew out of a National Magazine Award-nominated feature in Harper’s, tracks the mortgage crisis from the ground level.
Here’s how Sam Eifling describes it in a recent review in the Times:
Journalists are often archaeologists of the present, and in this charge, Reyes brings a detective’s discernment to the emotional lives of abandoned things, as well as a pickpocket’s elegance to his wordcraft. Where Reyes the reporter — and, to strong effect, memoirist — reaches beyond journalism, he ventures into literature’s mission of explaining human motive. Why would people invest in overpriced real estate? Well, once upon a time, his parents did just that. Reyes’ father, who in this book plays both muse and foil for the author, bought land in the state’s Jurassic interior — on his honeymoon, no less. The culture and land we’ve inherited was, at one time, for almost all of us, parcel to a hustle. That goes double for Floridians.
Reyes plays interrogator and witness to the culprits and victims of this surround-sound Ponzi scheme. When they leave behind flea-infested yards, scribbled-in Bibles and baby pictures, he sympathizes with their failures. Never does he blame them for trying. No one would have followed the numbers if they hadn’t promised a life in the sun. As an old salesman tells Reyes, “For fifty years there’s been this steady flow, the economy be damned.”
But Henry Holt didn’t do much to promote the book. Reyes had to not only self-promote, he had to convince Amazon and other booksellers not to ghettoize his book in the real-estate how-to section with the likes of “Foreclosure for Dummies.” But now folks seems to be paying attention.
Two weeks, the New York Times blog ran an excellent essay by Reyes on the photography of economic collapse, with an accompanying slideshow of pictures from the mortgage crisis that includes several from Reyes’ wife (and long time Little Rocker), Ellen Brownlee. Last week, George Packer plugged “Exiles” on his New Yorker blog, and “On the Media” followed-up on the Times essay with a long interview with Reyes.
Surely a Clinton School appearance is coming.