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You Don't Have to Live Like This

2.93  ·  Rating details ·  497 ratings  ·  77 reviews
A frighteningly prescient novel of today’s America—one man’s story of a racially-charged real estate experiment in Detroit, Michigan

“You get in the habit of living a certain kind of life, you keep going in a certain direction, but most of the pressure on you is just momentum. As soon as you stop the momentum goes away. It’s easier than people think to walk out on things, I
Hardcover, 400 pages
Published July 7th 2015 by Harper (first published June 30th 2015)
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2.93  · 
Rating details
 ·  497 ratings  ·  77 reviews

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Paul Bryant
Jul 09, 2017 rated it liked it
Shelves: novels
Our first person narrator Greg Marnier is a massive Olympic-gold-medal-standard dweeb and overdescribes his daily life in hair-tearing facepalming detail. So achingly dull is most of this hefty book that many readers have launched it at the wall even before the statutory 100 pages amidst cries of “I can’t stand this no more” or “I’d rather have my face eaten by one of them revolting face eating alien things from that movie we saw last month”. If only these readers would have stuck around till pa ...more
Adam Yates
May 20, 2015 rated it did not like it
Got a quarter into it and nothing had happened and I mean nothing. No 'racial tension' no 'frightening portrait of America.' A guy moves into a house. That's what I read a quarter of a book to learn.
Kate Vane
Jul 11, 2015 rated it it was ok
The narrator of this novel begins by saying he’s never been much good at telling stories. His brother always chided him for his ‘this and then this and then this’ approach. This has the effect of immediately undercutting any criticism. If you say it’s not a well structured, or paced, or interesting story, the author is free to respond, it’s not meant to be.

The premise is great. Greg Marnier (known to his friends as Marny) is an underachieving academic, who feels his life is going nowhere. His ol
Jul 29, 2015 rated it it was amazing
A terrific novel. It's being promoted as about Detroit and race relations, and yes, it's that. But I read it more as a portrait of a very specific type of person. The highly-educated narrator overthinks everything and is searching for something, drifting through life, afraid of the usual options but unable to define or commit to some other way of living. I recognized bits of myself in him, as well as most of my friends--an entire generation, in fact. (How many times have I thought, "well, maybe ...more
Jun 10, 2015 rated it it was ok
I chose this book because it was listed as 'one to watch' for 2015 in the Guardian, and I was given a pre release copy by the publisher. The story follows a group of middle class twenty somethings buy up abandoned property in Detroit in an attempt regenerate the area and live the pioneering American Dream. There were some potentially thought-provoking themes (racial tension, the dissatisfaction of middle America), but I felt it never got to the point that it was trying to make.

Some of the phras
Feb 03, 2015 rated it really liked it
Shelves: edelweiss
This book intrigued me because it was set in present day Detroit. Since I have lived my whole life in the Detroit Metro area, I figured that it was a must-read. The story mirrors what is going on it Detroit. It tells a story of a group of investors who want to buy up the abandoned, burned out, run-down or torn down properties in a section of Detroit. They want to purchase all the homes, even the ones that people are living in. They want to rebuild 5 square miles of Detroit and make a large profi ...more
Mar 23, 2016 rated it did not like it
Despite the great opening chapter with an entire young life recapped in under 10 pages to set the stage for where we are when the action starts, the action never happens. Total fizzle.

Expected so much more from a timely, sensitive proposition like some capitalist visionaires reclaiming a dead American city (Detroit) for whatever commercial or compassionate reasons, all while exploring the landscape, physical and social, for hurdles that lay ahead of this Utopian venture.

Never got there. Or if we
Frances Maxwell
Jan 02, 2017 rated it liked it
I struggled with this book. I found the concept of urban regeneration (also legal art) interesting, but the protagonist was dull and unlikeable, and actually very little happens! I folded a couple of pages for some nice quotes, e.g. 'Everyone talks about the weather but nobody does anything about it,' but I can't see myself re-reading it. Perhaps it has hidden depths but I didn't have the patience to discover them. For a novel about racial tensions, I found it rather devoid of colour.
Karen Garrett
Jan 01, 2016 rated it it was ok
Shelves: read-in-2016
Hated the protagonist. Hard to get past that.
Stephen Goldenberg
Nov 15, 2017 rated it it was ok
"A frighteningly prescient novel of today's America " says the blurb. And that's why I decided to read it. Sadly, it isn't prescient, it certainly isn't frightening and it has prescious little to say about today's America. Instead, get detailed accounts of the mostly boring lives and encounters of ex-Yale friends as they move into, and try to regenerate, downtown areas of Detroit.
Benjamin Markovits can certainly write (especially dialogue) but, on this evidence, he's no storyteller. I kept read
Jun 23, 2016 rated it did not like it
I had high hopes for this one, especially at the beginning. The only thing that kept me interested was this quote early on: "You get in the habit of living a certain kind of life, you keep going in a certain direction, but most of the pressure on you is just momentum. As soon as you stop the momentum goes away. It's easier than people think to walk out on things, I mean things like cities, leases, relationships and jobs."

I kept that in mind throughout the book because I connected with it, and it
Sara Molinaro
Dec 06, 2015 rated it did not like it
This book had so much potential and fell completely flat. None of the characters developed at all and the protagonist was a numbskull. I finished it just to spite myself, which seems like something dumb Marny would have done.
Sean Gill
Jun 09, 2018 rated it it was ok
Greg, the thirtysomething, generation Xish, largely unsympathetic narrator of this novel, describes himself as moving forward in life on inertia rather than ambition. In the end he gets stuck in a hopeless place relaying his story back to us as a sort of fevered-vision. That's the story the author has something to say about - the rest is just window dressing, with ultimately makes for a rather thin novel despite the page length. The narrator relays some encounters and dialogue in great detail, a ...more
Apr 10, 2019 rated it liked it  ·  review of another edition
Don't have much to say about this novel. It made me angry. The narrator is a kind of a jerk. But he stands in for a kind of white everyman trying to make his way through a life that is caught in a racial conflict. He has moved to Detroit as part of an attempt to gentrify neighborhoods, but also a scheme to raise real estate values in Detroit. The conflict is between old black Detroit and new White Yalies in Detroit. The narrator is caught in between and doesn't know how to function.
Nov 27, 2017 rated it did not like it
Very uninteresting. It had a good start, but it didn't continue well. I stopped at 100 something. I don't recommend it to anyone who is interested in fiction. This book is more like a non-fiction.
Lester Cockram
Nov 03, 2018 rated it liked it
Must admit I chose this book at a discount house because of its pretty cover and title.
Takes you on a journey on what a young lad from Louisiana does with his expensive Yale education investment.
I came to a conclusion but do not want to introduce any spoilers.
Jane Rose
Mar 11, 2017 rated it it was ok
A book about a man who has no redeeming characteristics and who is just coasting by doing nothing very interesting in Detroit.
Mathieu Ravier
Aug 23, 2015 rated it liked it
A cold hard look at class and race relations in the US today. The story of creative white liberals on a mission to breathe life back into bankrupt Detroit, it unpacks the complexity of this likely-sounding scenario in clinical, unsparing prose. Its strategy of identification - the reader sympathises with the passive but familiar, well-meaning narrator until they realise the person who smiles back at them in the mirror is a monster - is bold and chillingly effective.
Nov 20, 2016 rated it liked it
A largely enjoyable book set in post GFC Detroit about a social housing project. Strong racism, mixed with poverty and relationships made it quite a topical book to read! Gave it 3 mainly because it seemed a bit long.
May 21, 2017 rated it liked it
Shelves: 2017
This is a really interesting premise: rich guy buys up abandoned land in Detroit and aims to found a new community on the ruins of the old, kind of a modern colonialism or present day American pioneer settlement. But racial tensions are ignited and things get ugly.
I'm quite conflicted about the book as a whole. It made me think, but it didn't make me feel anything. It didn't get under my skin, not even a little. The writing style is deliberately bland and uninflected which gives you a great sen
Oct 01, 2017 rated it liked it
Greg Marnier, an unpublished and seemingly unemployable academic in the US, decides to return to the states after ten years in UK academia, resulting in a lecturing post at the University of Aberystwyth in Wales where he has failed to secure tenure.

Due to a series of events following a College reunion, Marny relocates to Detroit to participate in a social experiment (of sorts) of repopulating derelict neighbourhoods and to bring wealth to the city by attracting educated, entrepreneurial and cre
Richard Mullahy
Jun 02, 2017 rated it liked it
Shelves: on-shelf
Decent, but not as amazing as I'd expected it to be. There's a good concept in there but I don't think that it was realised to the extent that it could have been. I expected it to be simultaneously darker and more humorous, but it came across as dull to me. Marks for the idea and for the quality of the writing but could have been better.
Jul 23, 2017 rated it liked it
A decent read with some great insightful lines and descriptions of modern life and growing up. However suffers from a few too many characters and a bit of a meandering plot, that could be sharper on gentrification.
Rosie Hughes
Jun 02, 2017 rated it it was ok
As a British reader, I felt you potentially had to be American to really understand this book. I thought there may be parallels with the gentrification of previously industrial areas of London, but in the end I was left feeling that I'd rather missed the point.
Chris Meehan
Jan 24, 2017 rated it it was ok
Shelves: 2017-challenge
Well written novel which gave some of the essence of what it is like when you can feel like a stranger or interloper in the place that you want to be. Marny did not deal with this very well and ended up in a situation which he could have avoided if he had been more empathetic and proactive.
Jen Bradnock
Mar 05, 2017 rated it liked it
Based in Detroit, a city abandoned, a group of rich folk set buying up blocks and doing up the houses for financial gain. The story is about the folk that live there. I did enjoy this but won't stay with me forever.
Ivy Pittman-Outen
Jan 31, 2019 rated it it was amazing
Detroit's gentrification, friendships, and how it can it get muddied in a split second.
Jun 11, 2017 rated it really liked it
It's a jumbled up stream of consciousness book, but it meanders into some moving and brilliant moments if you have the patience to work through the opening. You'll like it or hate it
Sarah Mellington-Smith
May 20, 2017 rated it it was ok
Shelves: non-fiction
It's thought provoking... but the writing and 'story-telling' is a little blah....the idea(s) and issues are worth exploring...just didn't quite get there!
Nov 15, 2017 rated it it was ok
and you don't have to read like this.
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