Picks and Pans Review: The Corner: a Year in the Life of An Inner-City Neighborhood
This harrowing work of journalism should come with a warning label: Do not read unless you're ready to be shaken to your soul. An unflinching and almost unbearably sad chronicle of a single year spent on the bleak, drug-addled intersection of Fayette and Monroe Streets in West Baltimore, The Corner tells a disturbing story that, at 543 grim pages, is a challenge, sometimes a chore, to read.
Stick with it, and the reward is a deepened understanding of America's complex, intractable drug culture and, indeed, of human nature. Simon, who followed Baltimore police officers for his 1991 bestseller Homicide: A Year on the Killing Streets (he's now a writer and producer on the TV show it inspired), and Burns, a former cop and current public schoolteacher, spent 1993 tracking the hard lives of a handful of Baltimore's estimated 50,000 drug abusers. They are doomed characters like Dink-Dink, a 13-year-old sociopath who shoots people for fun, and Gary, an enterprising former real-estate investor reduced by an unforgiving habit to stealing copper pipes that he can turn into cash for drugs.
What Simon and Burns call their "stand-around-and-watch" methodology helped the duo gain the trust of their subjects, which enabled them to create a raw, intimate depiction of lives horribly wasted, of poignant stabs at dignity amid the devastation, and of good people inexorably destroyed by a powerful addictive impulse that has become, the authors suggest, "a religion for the American underclass." (Broadway, $27.50)