Sunday, December 02, 2007

The Corner: A Year In The Life Of An Inner-City Neighbourhood by David Simon & Ed Burns

David Simon and Ed Burns are currently well known for the creation of their hit television show, The Wire - a drama about drugs, the people that sell them and the people that fight against them, all played out in the streets of Baltimore.

Long before the hit HBO show, David Simon was a reporter for the Baltimore Sun. He took time off as a reporter to spend a year with the Homicide unit of the Baltimore Police Department, spawning the excellent Homicide: A Year on the Killing Street, which was subsequently made into a critically acclaimed television series of the same name. Ed Burns was one of the detectives who worked during that year so vividly described in David Simon's book.

Persuaded by his editor, David Simon joined forces with Ed Burn to spend over a year experiencing Baltimore from the other side of the fence - with the dealers in the street and the victims of drug addiction.

What resulted is this intricate and emotional account of a handful of lives living in the heart of the drug problem in West Baltimore. The Corner: A Year In The Life Of An Inner-City Neighbourhood tracks the hopes and dreams, the disappointments and failures, and the addictions and deaths of the everyday people who are slaves to the corner.

Real life characters such as DeAndre, a teenager pulled towards the vice of drug dealing for purposes of money and status, or his mother, Fran, who tries so hard to raise her kids properly while fighting an uphill battle with addiction, or his father, Gary, once an established entrepreneur, reduced to a dribbling drug fiend by the corner, conjuring up capers in order to get his next blast, despite the purity of his heart, or Ella, a mother trying to make a difference on Fayette Street, working hard at the Martin Luther King Jr Recreation Centre, battling to guide those kids who attend towards a better life, knowing in her heart that the pull of the corner is stronger than her resolve.

These are people whose successes and failures have an emotional impact that strikes with greater strength than any well developed fictional character - these are real people going through real hardship on an unforgiving landscape.

Their personal struggles are traumatic and heartbreaking, but the battle of the system on a national level is just as disheartening. The authors tackle both aspects with the utmost care and skill - episodes of individual drama read like a first hand account (which is the case in most instances), bringing the reader into the reality of the character's lives, fears and dreams, written in an intimate and personal way; much more than just a matter-of-fact account of their struggle. Chapters dedicated to the broader issues aren't preachy and do not attempt to find solutions; instead, they are accounts of the state of play, conveying successfully the helplessness of the situation, the relevance of which is referenced back to the real lives of The Corner's many characters.

Reading The Corner is like experiencing a well researched piece of crime fiction, one that creates a strong, emotional connection between reader and character, while highlighting dramatic circumstances in a visceral and thought-provoking way, adding realism to the struggles and outcomes of the downtrodden on Fayette Street.

But this is not fiction, this is reality, and The Corner is more powerful because of it.

Nothing short of an important masterpiece.

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