On March 4, 2019, in The New York Times, IPK Director Eric Klinenberg writes a review of Alex Kotlowitz’s latest book, An American Summer: Love and Death in Chicago. Read an excerpt below and the full piece on The New York Times website.
On July 22, 2012, Darren Easterling was murdered in Park Forest, a mostly African-American suburb south of Chicago. Two days later, the local newspaper published a short article, headlined “Man Shot to Death in Park Forest Had Drug, Weapons Conviction,” that highlighted his criminal history. The story did not directly blame Easterling for his own homicide, but the implication was unmistakable: This was a man who lived and died among coldblooded killers. He got what he should have expected, if not what he deserved.
Easterling’s mother, Lisa, tells a different story. In high school, her athletic son had been a football player and an avid fan of documentary films. He wrote sweet birthday cards and letters. He had two children, and was an attentive, affectionate father. Lisa was all-too-aware of his dark side. Years before, she had kicked him out of her house for dealing drugs. He had done time for carrying a gun. Lisa had long worried that he was heading for disaster, but she also saw how he could turn things around. Darren’s death, in a drug deal that went haywire, sent her into a spiral of guilt, shame and sadness. When Darren’s killer went on trial, Lisa wanted to forgive him and ask the court for leniency, but that proved wrenching, too.
Stories like Lisa’s and Darren’s, told in dispatches covering three months during 2013, are the lifeblood of An American Summer, the journalist Alex Kotlowitz’s account of reckless brutality in the Chicago area’s impoverished, segregated neighborhoods. Although the narrative is organized around events from one summer, Kotlowitz spent four years immersed in the grim worlds where homicide is rampant. His reporting spans that period, and beyond.