Motor City Blues
What do you get when you bring together social criticism, high-octane drug addiction, failing grades, nihilism, and vengeance? You end up with Peter Ohren’s character, Todd Foster, in his new book, “Motor City Blues.” Todd is an exasperating 25-year-old law student at Wayne State University in the 1990s, whose life is slowly coming apart at the seams. Each chapter takes the reader along with Todd down through one mistake after another, until the roof finally, and literally, caves in on him.
Ohren has done an excellent job of depicting the intelligently muddled machinations of a substance abuser. He reveals the voices in Todd’s head, and the discussions he has with himself, as he attempts to sort out all the mess he’s been making of his academic and love life. There are sadly humorous moments when Todd sees clearly that he has screwed things up, and then immediately starts blaming his mother and step-father, the school administration, or some other target of his victimhood. Toward the end, while he is lying in the hospital recovering from his car roof crashing in on him, he is confronted with the possibility that he might have a substance abuse problem. He immediately shifts into denial with the “I can handle it, I don’t have a problem” line of thinking.
Another enjoyable aspect of the story, that had a humorous texture to it, was the social criticism. Here was a young law student, living off of someone else’s largess while disparaging the very system that was giving him an opportunity that others don’t have, and he was blowing it away on cocaine and parties. For example, when Todd chides the memory of his ex-girlfriend because she was wealthy and would thus be spared from “the harsh realities of real life” (159), he doesn’t even recognize that he has likewise been spared the same harsh realities because his family bails him out of the consequences of his actions. Even his troublesome friends, Tartarian and Gina, were finding money from somewhere (presumably their scholarships or grants) which they too were snorting away in high quantities, while officiously railing against the system. Their inability to see their hypocrisy is quite comical.
The author did a good job of keeping my attention, and I found that as Todd’s life was unraveling I wanted to get to the next chapter to find out if he would finally see the coming collision and slam on the brakes. There does seem to be a bit of maturing in Todd toward the end of the book, especially when he takes up the responsibility of repaying his biological father who loaned him the money he needed to pay for his damages at the law school.
Though I found “Motor City Blues” a bit frustrating at times with the forced philosophical dialogue, social criticism, and the painful misuse of the divine name in profanity, overall it was a readable story about the downward spiral of Todd Foster that is probably very close to what many experience in the university scene.