I just read an article entitled, Detroit Fiction, at the Millions. This piece is a “manifesto” for more compelling, more social realist fiction, using Detroit as a wobbly metaphor for grit and edge.
Rejuvenating the social realist novel? Tom Wolfe called for that back in 1989 in Harper’s, the same publication that published Franzen’s essay in 1996 about how fiction had become hopelessly suburbanized because its city was bombed out.
If you want to write a social realist novel or novella and you want to keep it “real”, look no further than the Detroit-centric works of Elmore Leonard or Chester Himes. They smuggled in all kinds of insights about American life in a decaying core. And they did so in language that is free of the hysterical realism that infects so much MFA tooled fiction of young writers. Detroit fiction doesn’t have to be about Detroit. Heaven knows there’s enough people out there fetishizing Detroit. But the social realist novella should speak fast and hard. You don’t have to say much but you do have to tell it straight. Everything else is noise.