Among The Ruins


George Packer reflects on the continuing foreclosure crisis:

I just finished reading a powerful new book called “Exiles in Eden: Life Among the Ruins of Florida’s Great Recession,” by Paul Reyes, a writer in Tampa who spent the past couple of years helping his father with his “trash-out” businessclearing out what former owners left behind in houses claimed by the banks: the letters and photos, books and posters, carpets and fridges and fleas. Reyes, treasuring what the owners themselves didn’t bother to keep, calls this “a guilt-ridden literary forensics.” (For the visual analogues, see this essay by Reyes on the Times Web site, and the new school of photojournalism it describes.)

He has a weakness for the intimate details that people in haste and trouble left behind, combined with an insider’s ability to find ongoing life in landscapes that more casual visitors would regard as undifferentiated decay. It’s a bleak book, with an accumulation of unpleasant physical detail and a strain of comedy and affectionDown and Out in Tampa and Lehigh Acres. There’s also a moving subplot of dislocation and downward mobility in the author’s own family. Everything feels transient, dreamy, and thinly rooted in the sandy soil, amid the palmettos and shotgun shacks, with hard times bearing down like a tropical hurricane.

(Image: painting by Amy Casey. Artist's website here.)