I do not feel anxiety often when reading, but Brian Platzer’s debut novel set me on edge before the end of the first page.
Bed-Stuy Is Burning presents a fictional account of police shooting an unarmed 12-year-old-black kid in Bed-Stuy. The shooting precipitates protests full of violence, mayhem and murder. Lighting a long fuse on page one, Platzer lets the fuse burn quietly in the background while introducing the main players and their daily lives. Having recently bought a home in a large majority black neighborhood, Aaron and Amelia are adapting to their new lives with the addition of their baby boy Simon. (Not) dealing with an unacknowledged gambling addiction, Aaron works on Wall Street after losing his job as a rabbi, a direct result of gambling with temple funds. Amelia is an aspiring writer torn between motherhood and her socially insignificant writing career and her love for Aaron, coupled with a deep-seated fear that sooner or later he will fail her. Their black nanny Antoinette takes great care of Simon, but she wants much more. A wealthy stalwart veteran of the neighborhood, Jupiter is a successful business owner who enjoys a daily visit with Antoinette, laying the groundwork for what he hopes will be a more significant relationship. Sara is a black high school drop-out with a huge chip on her shoulder and an internal need to do damage to whatever is in front of her. These characters are unknowingly about to change each others’ lives in dramatic and irreversible ways.
As Platzer delves deeper into the inner workings of his characters, we see they are consumed with ambivalence about themselves, each other, their choices, their lives. But when all hell breaks loose, clarity and conviction become the driving forces behind their choices. The moment I finished the book, I wondered if some readers would consider this book a “white savior” story, but Platzer wisely leaves their lives open-ended and unfinished—there are no winners, no saviors. However, my concern about the storyline remains.
It’s been a couple of weeks since I finished the book and I’m still left wondering if the underlying message perpetuates long standing prejudices and practices, or furthers the dialogue about these troublesome topics. Does the book accurately represent our society, or is it an unintentional reinforcement of the ongoing stereotypes that continue to pervade and undermine our social fabric? Regardless of the answer, I recommend this book. Brian Platzer can write. Maybe you’ll see it differently. If it sparks a dialogue, all the better.