About Home for Sale
Detroit in the 1950s: real estate booming, fat cats selling homes fast and furiously to veterans, working hard now in the Ford assembly plants. It’s just before a real estate crash and this novel’s characters swirl around its high stakes and impending doom. Eugene, leaving a Detroit orphanage at 18 and aiming for college, teams up with fellow orphan and developer Elton, who’s out to make millions. If young Eugene reveres the orphanage director Kate Wyman, Elton pursues her as prey, in hopes of acquiring the orphanage property along the Detroit River. Enter collegiate Eugene’s mentor at Wayne State, a black professor whose actress wife wants to buy a Victorian home in the white heart of the city. Elton’s strategy is to profit from anything he can, from white flight to middle-class black aspirations. And real estate comes to reflect the dismay and deceit we’ve known in more recent times. A Detroit native, Leo Litwak brings his world vividly to life.
An orphan and a misfit, Eugene Smith grows up in Detroit in the 1950s. He sells real estate, saves money, attends college, becomes a teacher, falls in love, moves to San Francisco. Home for Sale might be an autobiographical novel, or a fanciful fiction about one young man's coming-of-age. It doesn't really matter where it belongs on the spectrum that divides fiction from nonfiction.
Leo Litwak—a longtime novelist, memoirist and short story writer—tells a sad, funny, melodramatic story about Smith's world and its quirky characters: hustlers, intellectuals and bohemians. His feisty girlfriend, Louise Lehman, spits out lines like a movie star in a screwball comedy. Home for Sale is also a saga about a disintegrating city that moves toward integration even as its white residents sell their homes to African American families and move to the suburbs. For Litwak, history unfolds close to home, neighborhood by neighborhood, building by building. It's personal and it's political, and it could be happening now in the real estate market.
A literary descendant of the protagonists who inhabit the gritty urban novels of James Farrell and Nelson Algren, Smith walks on the wild side and plays it safe, too. It's not the turbulent 1960s; the Motown Sound hasn't hit, though in an "Afterword," Smith describes his return to a riot-ravaged Detroit, "neighborhoods blotted out by fire." He's not sure if it's about to be reborn or go on devolving. The mix of hope and hopelessness makes his story a bittersweet joy to read and remember.
Jonah Raskin, SF Chronicle, April 15, 2012
Praise for Books by Leo Litwak
Leo Litwak’s rich, complex, and engrossing novel, Home for Sale, links two important themes. One is the traditional quest story of a young man searching for meaning, love, friendship, a decent place in the world, the possible rewards of adulthood. The other theme emerges from an original vision of the avid real estate promotions of the postwar world, which led to boom, knavery, bust, and the decay of Detroit, once a great city. The story unifies a lyric vision of youth, like the old tales of Dick Whittington seeking out London and Balzac’s Rastignac seeking to conquer Paris, with a very contemporary rustbelt tragedy. If there is such a thing, it’s a novel of retroactive prophecy.
Herbert Gold, author of Still Alive: A Temporary Condition
The people in Leo Litwak’s fine stories make the reader laugh and cry…A most satisfying book.
Maxine Hong Kingston, author of The Fifth Book of Peace
It is so rare to encounter such mastery and such humility in the same book.
Phillip Levine, Poet Laureate of the United States
The work of an artist of deep compassion and insight, equipped with an impeccable control of storytelling craft. This is important fiction, fiction of the first rank.
Leonard Gardner, author of Fat City
These are stories you will not only read, but hear in your heart for years after.
Molly Giles, author of Iron Shoes: A Novel
A recipient of the Anne and Robert Cowan Award and both Guggenheim and National Endowment for the Arts fellowships, Leo Litwak has written two novels, two works of nonfiction, a short story collection, and articles in publications including The New York Times Magazine, Tikkun, and Esquire. Litwak’s Waiting for the News received the National Jewish Book Award; “The Eleventh Edition” received first prize in the 1990 O. Henry Prize Stories collection. In 2001 The Medic, his war memoir, was a Barnes and Noble Discover Book and one of the Los Angeles Times and San Francisco Chronicle Books of the Year. A professor at San Francisco State University for more than thirty years, Leo Litwak lives in San Francisco.
HOME FOR SALE
by Leo Litwak
Published: El Leon; April 2012