Review: Cleveland Neighborhood Guidebook

This collection of essays from Belt Publishing travels the diverse range of communities within and adjacent to Cleveland, a city with a legacy that elicits both pride and remorse. Its septuagenarian residents can recall a time when Cleveland was considered one of America’s top ten cities, and the city’s broad thoroughfares retain evidence of a municipality designed to accommodate over a million people. But like many cities in the Great Lakes region, Cleveland relied on industries that began cratering fifty years ago; civic unrest in the 1960s hit the city particularly hard, and when interstate highways opened the doors to the suburbs, the city’s population fell to levels not seen since 1900.

To their credit, the editors of Cleveland Neighborhood Guidebook decided not to overlook the devastation caused by the city’s depopulation. The anthology includes a frightening account of one young couple’s disastrous attempt to settle in a crime-stricken neighborhood, and there are a few odes to industrial sections that are little more than ghost towns. Mixed in with these sobering tales are a few too many panegyrics to areas where urban pioneers have established thriving communities; written in a voice resembling an over-enthusiastic Chamber of Commerce spokesperson. Given the typically distorted view of Cleveland in the media, such ebullience is understandable, even if if makes for poor writing, but fortunately there’s more than enough quality work in the anthology to overcome its occasional flaws.

If you’re not a current or former resident of northeast Ohio, this book probably isn’t for you — the essays rely on a civic memory that a reader from outside the area simply won’t have. But if you’re looking to gain more knowledge of the city of Cleveland, this book will be insightful.

***

This review is a milestone of sorts. Last December, I attended a holiday party for a Cleveland literary group and was fortunate enough to win a raffle for six books from local authors. I vowed that evening to review each of those works, and over the past several months I’ve blogged about a bildungsroman, an autobiography about a harrowing crime, a detective novel, a collection of plays and monologues, another novel that deserved to be better than it turned it — and with today’s review, I’ve completed my obligation. Fortunately, I attended a book swap last week for the same group, and was able to exchange most of those books for a new collection, which will be the source for future reviews.