Bed-Stuy is Burning balances the multiple layers of stories going on with great success ... Platzer captures these characters and their stories in a convincing and, ultimately, compassionate way. It’s this kind of delicate handling that makes Bed-Stuy is Burning work so well ... While Platzer’s novel is undoubtedly a good one, the tension does get a bit overwhelming in the second half, and the pacing is a little too quick in sections. The thrills, too, extend longer than necessary. These, though, are minor qualms. Bed-Stuy is Burning, with its diverse voices and sincere depiction of the fight for social equality, is a mighty fine debut from a writer to watch.
The violent standoff between the mob and those inside the building is riveting, full of cliffhanger chapter endings and surprise twists ... Mr. Platzer deftly swivels among the clashing points of view, and the climax, in which Aaron returns to disperse the crowd with an improvised sermon, is powerfully done. But the scene is vexing as well. To Aaron, the sermon is his wake-up call to return to the rabbinate. But that it casts him in the role of the redeemed hero highlights just how much he and Amelia have dominated a novel whose flashpoint is police violence against African-Americans ... Mr. Platzer is a direct and revealing observer of the habit white Americans have of making themselves the centerpieces of other peoples’ stories. Yet even in this novel, the gentrifiers have still managed to claim the choicest real estate.
To say that Bed-Stuy Is Burning is ambitious would be like saying Taylor Swift is popular. Platzer takes on topics as big as God, money, parenthood, marriage, gentrification and police violence. But this level of ambition can leave a story unfocused, or worse, focused in the wrong direction ... What black characters we do encounter never fully emerge past their plainly drawn biographical sketches ... The descriptions of nonwhite characters range from lazy and stereotypical ('She was Asian and very skinny') to outright offensive ('The man was Indian. Dot not feather,' the extortionist notes). Worse than that is how many characters go without description. These are the black residents of Bed-Stuy ... The most generous reading of Bed-Stuy Is Burning takes its inadequate interest in its black characters as a larger comment on the way these kinds of stories typically sideline black people’s narratives. But the earnestness with which the white characters are portrayed frustrates that generosity ... this is ultimately a novel about black people happening to white people.
Bed-Stuy Is Burning, with its near-cartoonish portrayal of former NYPD commissioner Bill Bratton as a self-aggrandizing chief who arrives on the scene determined to contain the conflict within Bed-Stuy, has much to say about underlying institutional problems. But Platzer’s book overestimates the power of individual connection to subdue racial unrest ... The book is an engaging, provocative read, even in episodes that strain credulity like Aaron’s sermon on the stoop. Platzer even delivers a brilliant false ending that complicates the story’s outcome and arguably redeems the whole enterprise. The unexpected second ending brings a sense of balance to the book concluding Bed-Stuy Is Burning with fitting ambiguity.
Platzer is very good at doling out details of Aaron’s tightly wound character and Amelia’s reciprocal doubts, finding redemptions for both that, though not unlikely, do have a certain deus ex machina feel, given the distances each has to travel. In a story tinged with biblical allegory, Platzer also serves up some delicious set pieces for his supporting players ... Expertly paced, eminently readable, and a promising start.
That anger eventually explodes, but the mood before that happens is less one of rising tension than of novelistic furniture being carefully arranged. Caught-between-two-worlds characterizations abound ... Such contrivances frustrate because Platzer clearly knows his turf. A Bed-Stuy resident himself, he convincingly sketches out how thin the neighborhood’s peaceful veneer is without lazily singling out one cause of dysfunction ... This awareness of the complexity of the neighborhood, though, is often at cross-purposes with the tidy narrative line of the novel itself.
The perspectives of secondary characters—including Aaron’s antisocial white tenant, their black nanny, the N.Y.C. police commissioner, and others—are ostensibly included to provide a diversity of voices. In reality, however, these multiple perspectives primarily serve to showcase the narrative’s lack of depth and failure to engage with social issues and urban complexity on anything more than a surface level. Perhaps readers largely unaware of discriminatory policing, economic injustice, or economic displacement will find the narrative enlightening, but those hoping for the novel to really grapple with these issues will be largely disappointed, as it descends into melodrama instead.