This is a new and refreshingly original American voice which is something that has been lacking for a long time. Zenith Rising is what I would classify as a masculine book and I loved it. Unlike that self important cadre of male writers which you all know I don't like, Goodell seems to combine some of the best of Sinclair Lewis and Dashiell Hammett. It makes for a very compelling story. I wouldn't have put it down except for the need to sleep.
Zenith Rising is the story of a city very much like Detroit but also resembling the setting for Lewis' Babbitt. It is midwestern but there are prairies nearby so further west than Detroit. The main character, Narrows Burton, is a real estate developer who, like Babbitt, is not satisfied with the direction of his life.
The opening of the book explodes upon you with one of those quotidien acts of violence that are expected in a major American inner city. This theme is repeated at shocking intervals throughout the novel. The descriptions of the dying and dead parts of the city will feel exactly correct to anyone who lives in or near a major city. Having spent my life in the Detroit area I can attest to the reality. Narrows Burton enters the story as the developer of a planned suburban community trying to preserve some of its ecological history. Rather than clear cutting, plans are to leave the 150 year old trees in situ and there are built-in parks, recreation and green facilities. Unfortunately Narrows runs afoul of a vindictive attorney who sets about creating his ignominious downfall. A chance trip into the inner city prompts an epiphany for Narrows and he begins to change his focus so when he does hit bottom it is not the disaster it might have been.
As a developer Narrows is the perfect guy to help an inner city group, led by a charismatic pastor, try and reclaim something of their city and their dignity. It is this which redeems him and allows him to brush off his defeat and move ahead albeit with heavy alcoholic lubrication. While all this is going on Narrows becomes embroiled in a riot with environmentalists, gets sued by just about everyone and investigated by the SEC for insider trading. Narrows and his lawyer, however, are not about to let the heavy get away unscathed. (Can I just call all the bad guys Cheney from now on?) You will find all the loose ends tied up, if not happily, then at least satisfactorily.
The novel is predominantly a realistic look at the people and politics behind the rise and fall of contemporary American cities - the constant struggle between what is right and what is profitable. There is no pity in this portrait, however, only the impetus to keep on trying. Also the recognition that it is an ongoing enterprise with no end yet in sight. Thirty years ago I worked for an organization which tried to address some of these same problems. They are still there and I know Detroit is not unique in that respect.
Zenith Rising is brimming with characters, each one swiftly and surely painted by the hand of an artist. There is an almost invisible propulsion through the story - a style of writing more usual in a thriller which this is not. What makes this novel so exciting to me is that I have not read another like it and I have read a lot of novels. Goodell's writing voice is unique and there are lovely zingers that only a writer can get away with sprinkled throughout the book: "Environmentalists are like misers. They aren't easy to live with, but they make good ancestors." and my favorite "He's a lawyer, John. It's his job to sound sincere."
More people need to read good books like Zenith Rising rather than the dross that clogs the shelves at the mega bookstores and litters the bestseller rolls. (And yes I know that occasionally something really great becomes a bestseller - don't write in.)
To my friends in Europe and Australia, Zenith Rising is available at AmazonUK and The Book Depository. For a fast paced, fairly gritty look at contemporary urban America in the spirit of Sinclair Lewis this is your baby.
Michael Goodell's "Zenith Rising" is a fast-paced, well-written story of Narrows Burton who has a vision for rebuilding a dying city. Residents of Southeastern Michigan will recognize many Detroit locations. For example, Sterling Heights becomes Crystal Heights, the Detroit River is the Ontanogan River and the Detroit Athletic Club is the Zenith Athletic Club. You will zip through this book in no time!
I have just received my copy of 'Zenith Rising' and I am hooked! I love your gritty style. The images you paint of life in the town are rich and multi-layered. I'm sure I'm going to enjoy the adventure of this read.
Every good person wants to do the right thing. But how do you define the "right thing?" Is it what makes your life better? Or what makes someone else's life better?
This is the struggle that most of the characters in Zenith Rising are facing. Some, like Rob Patterson, a bloated attorney full of hatred and spite, just knows that he feels better when everyone around him is miserable. Others, like Cindy Herringbone, born with a silver spoon, know that money buys them happiness.
But Narrows Burton, the main character of the novel, is direly conflicted. His ex-wife, Cindy Herringbone, exposed him to the finest things that money could buy. His memberships at the Zenith Country Club and Zenith Athletic Club have earned him "friendships" with the most wealthy and influential people in town. But Narrows knows in his heart that what these people call happiness does not mesh with his definition of the "right thing".
A drive through the decaying and crumbling neighborhoods of Zenith's inner city causes him to ask "This is America?" Narrows decides he wants to improve the lives of the most undervalued citizens of Zenith. His attempts in that direction are met with patronizing contempt and scorn by Cindy and the rest of Zenith's elite. That, and a personal vendetta against him by the powerful and connected Rob Patterson, are making a shambles of his life.
Zenith Rising provides a commentary on the problems faced by American cities struggling to redefine themselves in the 21st Century. The plight of inner city families and children is explored in a sensitive and thoughtful manner. Zenith Rising does not sugar coat the situation; the outlook, while not completely hopeless, is startling bleak for even the most well meaning of these urban victims. Every step forward seems to be followed by two steps back.
But Zenith Rising is not only a social commentary, it is a very personal story of personal conflict, romance, struggle, triumph and failure. The last 100 pages of the novel are exciting, intriguing and engrossing. I found myself rooting hard for Narrows and others trying to rise above the greed and corruption that surround and tempt them on a daily basis. For these characters, doing the right thing is not the course of least resistance.
With a re-edit to eliminate a surprisingly large number of typos, and some polishing of the first half of the book to reduce some confusion in character development, I would consider this to be one of the finest pieces of modern literature I've ever read. Zenith Rising evokes thoughts of the great 20th Century American novelists like Sinclair Lewis and Ayn Rand, combining intelligent and compelling personal stories with thinly veiled commentary on today's social, economic and political climate. The dialog, vocabulary and cadence of the novel are first-rate. The characters are real, the story is riveting and the subplots are gripping.
Bravo on this fine first work. I can't wait for the next!