[This is Book 2 of the Detroit 8 trilogy.]
Livonia continues the saga of Maggie and Sam, two idealistic white adults beginning their family life in Detroit and Livonia, a suburb which was and continues to be one of the whitest cities in America, while Detroit continues to be the blackest. Their story is a rich tapestry of plots and counter plots woven together during the struggle for civil rights in America, using an authentic background with the songs, the brands, and the human behavior of the late 1960’s and early 1970’s. This time frame includes the assassination of both Robert Kennedy and Martin Luther King. Central to the story is that Maggie and Sam are invited to be “the highly esteemed whites” in the Detroit black civil rights group, “The Eights.”
Livonia covers the time when Maggie and Sam and little Tekla move into the whitest city with the object of setting the stage for “integration in the “burbs” by inviting their black friends as guests into their home. They find this is not easy, when their kitchen window is broken by a rock with the message attached, “go home n.i.g.g.e.r-lovers.” Woven into the main tapestry is the mystery of the disappearance of Maggie’s French-Canadian parents when she was a child and Sam’s being targeted as he is promoted to a position at work in which he can make a difference. What is “The Puzzle”? And what is this mysterious organization called Oz? Because the characters are trying to make sense of what is happening in their lives, we, the readers, may also be confused at the beginning.
The author’s brain seems to fire in three directions at one time and she expects the reader to keep up. It is worth the effort. The writing is often lyrical and sometimes philosophical. Loretta, one of the black protagonists, says “I grew up thinking if people would just say what they mean and mean what they say we could get through all the bigotry and hate…[t]ruth is truth. The problem is how we get to truth…”
Towards the end of the book, Maggie is able to fill in many of the blanks and make sense of the larger, much larger, picture—and we are, too. Livonia is a complex novel in a complex time.