The basics: As the title indicates, The Short and Tragic Life of Robert Peace is the story of Robert DeShaun Peace's life, as written by his college roommate Jeff Hobbs, a novelist who relies on the memories of Rob's friends and family members to construct this biography of sorts.
My thoughts: As if the title itself isn't descriptive and sad, the subtitle, "a brilliant young man who left Newark for the Ivy League," underscores the sadness of Robert Peace's death. Even though I knew this story ends with his death, I compulsively listened to this book. It begins as a story of success. The tale of Robert Peace's childhood is remarkable and inspiring. It's a story too astonishing to be fiction.
Although I knew the ending of this book when I began it, Hobbs writing infuses so many mysteries into this book. I became obsessed with the hows and whys of Robert's life. There are so many wow moments, both happy and sad ones, and yet the smaller moments may resonate with me more deeply.
Hobbs has written a beautiful book. It's a biography of Robert Peace, but it's also partially a memoir. It's also a microhistory and sociological exploration of race and poverty. Although not explicitly, it's a call to action, or at least a call to awareness. This book changed me. It broke my heart. It made me think. I can't shake this book, nor can I shake the story of Robert Peace. It's a story I don't want to forget. The Short and Tragic Life of Robert Peace is a book so good I'm tempted to not try to articulate why it moved so much, emotionally and intellectually. Part of me wants to say it's simply amazing, but as I attempt to articulate why I love this book so much, it reinforces how good it really is, as well as how good of a writer Jeff Hobbs is.
The verdict: The Short and Tragic Life of Robert Peace is storytelling at its very best. Hobbs is a wonderful writer and manages to tell both Rob's story as well as a story much bigger than Robert Peace himself. It's also partially Jeff's story, particularly at the times their lives intersect. So, too, is it the story of Rob's friends and family members. It offers a haunting glimpse into Newark and wrestles with the big issues of race, poverty, privilege, education, success, and home. It's a beautiful meditation on life and humanity. It's ostensibly the story of one man, but this book, much like its subject, is so much more complicated, intellectually and emotionally, than anything as simple as a biography can capture.
Rating: 5 out of 5
Length: 13 hours 22 minutes (417 pages)
Publication date: September 23, 2014
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